Blogs > Sara Gutterman > February 2013 > Roadmap to Action

Roadmap to Action

Regardless of your politics, it’s hard to deny that our country is profoundly deficient when it comes to appropriate regulation for our changing energy, climate, and environmental protection needs.

From a clean energy and environmental policy standpoint, Obama’s first term was initially filled with hope but turned out to be rife with disappointment. However, if his fervor about developing solutions for our changing climate in this week’s State of the Union can be used as a true barometer, Obama’s second term has real potential to rescue our economy, environment, and energy security.

Obama asserts that he is committed to address environmental issues regardless of involvement from Congress. Which begs the question—what can he actually do without Congress’ support?

According to a recent report by the World Resources Institute (WRI), Obama could reduce our nation’s emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by 2020 (a commitment the Obama Administration made in 2009) through the following executive actions:

1) Increasing carbon standards for existing power plants (which account for 33% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions) and natural gas systems (which account for 4% of U.S. emissions) through the EPA using the Clean Air Act. According to the WRI, “these two sectors represent two of the top opportunities for substantial GHG reductions between now and 2035.” WRI asserts that technologies for reducing methane emissions from natural gas systems will pay for themselves within 3 years.

2) Reducing the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) that harm the ozone layer and contribute to climate change through the EPA using the Clean Air Act and an amended Montreal Protocol. WRI says that “eliminating HFCs represents the biggest opportunity for GHG emissions reductions behind power plants.”

3) Implementing new appliance and equipment efficiency standards through the Department of Energy, which, according to the WRI, “can reduce electricity demand by 11% by 2035.”

4) Encouraging investment and innovation in clean energy solutions. Renewable energy technologies like solar and wind are not only becoming cost effective, but they are also more scalable than traditional forms of generation (gigawatts of solar and wind can be installed in months, whereas traditional power plants take years to construct). Fortunately, we don’t need major technology breakthroughs to grow the clean energy sector—we have cost competitive technologies available today. In states like Arizona, renewables are beginning to compete without subsidies. Solar is skyrocketing, in part due to innovative leasing programs that provide home and business owners access to solar systems with no upfront costs. Wind power is experiencing similarly explosive growth—for example, wind comprises over 20% of total power production in Iowa, with a goal of 100% by 2030. And for those states that still need incentives, the DOE and the Treasury recently announced the availability of $150 million in tax credits for clean energy and energy efficiency manufacturing projects across the country, targeting technologies including solar, wind, geothermal, fuel cells, microturbines, energy storage systems, equipment for energy conservation and smart grid technologies. Furthermore, we have a roadmap for scaling renewable energy production—the National Renewable Energy Laboratory released a report last June on how we can produce 80-90% of America’s electricity from “proven, reliable, and increasingly competitive renewable sources like sun and wind.”

5) Working with the states to bolster renewables, increase energy efficiency, and reduce emissions from transportation. Obama can use the leadership exhibited by the States as a roadmap: 29 states now have renewable standards; 20 states have energy efficiency standards; 10 states have cap and trade systems; and many others are implementing policies to address transportation issues and end-use efficiency.

WRI does acknowledge that, in the end, new legislation will be needed to achieve our long-term targets and “fend off the most deleterious impacts of climate change.”

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see how aggressively Obama wields his executive power in the areas where he has the most influence, which will be a telltale sign of how committed he really is to making environmental protection part of his lasting legacy.

The rest of the world is not waiting for the U.S. to make decisions. Germany is leading the world in installed solar. China and India are racing to dominate the renewables manufacturing sector. The countries that move the fastest in the clean energy and intelligent technology sectors will undoubtedly control global supply and pricing, and will, presumably, have the most stable economies. Who will own the future?

What else do you think this Administration can do to protect the environment and appropriately address our changing climate? Write to me at sara@greenbuildermag.com or follow me on Twitter @SaraGBM.

For more information about green building and sustainable living, visit www.greenbuildermag.com, like us on Facebook, and follow us on Twitter at @greenbuildermag and @VISIONHouseGBM for regular updates and breaking news.

Posted: 2/14/2013 1:58:08 PM by Mary Kestner | with 0 comments



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