The first term of the U.S. president was a disappointment when it came to environmental protection. Effective immediately, Obama announced that he wants to change that.
Barack Obama announced this week with grand words that he will finally do something for the environment. “But if Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” said the President in his State of the Union address.
According to surveys, two thirds of Americans are on his side. The League of Conservation Voters determined that 65 percent of the population supports environmental protection. Among the surveyed Republicans, only 38 percent see it that way — and their politicians represent the majority in the House of Representatives.
Obama already failed there with his 2010 environmental protection law, which provided for a national emissions cap. In spite of this, the president can implement environmental protection measures. "We are encouraged,” said Nicholas Bianco, from the think tank World Resources Institute, “to find there are the tools available to get there without Congress. The other encouraging sign is that the administration appears to be ready to tackle climate in the second term."
The think tank names some measures that Obama could take without a Congressional vote. “The path leads through the Environmental Protection Agency,” said Bianco.* They could set limits on the use of hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) in refrigerators or air conditioners or set new standards of how energy-efficient electrical appliances need to be. Both would be possible without congressional approval. Above all, Obama would be able to have dirty coal power plants shut down with the help of the agency.
Limits for Coal Power Plants
They are responsible for more than one third of the greenhouse gases in the U.S. The EPA already lowered power plants’ carbon dioxide output limit in Obama’s first term of office — but only for new construction. The next step, according to Arne Jungjohann, from the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Washington, would be limits for existing coal power plants.
“The EPA can act on the basis of the Clean Air Act,” said the environmental expert. “That would mean that many power plants, which are in part 40 years old, would have to be shut down because they do not meet the criteria.”* At the moment, however, Obama is not pushing the EPA to do so: Old power plants are being shut down anyway because gas prices are extremely low.
In matters of climate protection, Obama appears to be changed during his second term of office. Renewable energies are by no means limited to coal and nuclear power for him. Obama approved oil drilling off the coast as well as a sub-project of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas that is supposed to transport oil from tar sand. He knows that his energy transition is only viable if can sell it economically to his recession-plagued country.
The EPA will play a vital role in this, according to opinions of environmental protectionists. It has not been determined who will lead the EPA after Lisa Jackson’s recent departure at the end of her four-year term.
The authority is, therefore, also important because it takes from Democrats the decision to shut down old, dirty power plants. Even though Republicans in Congress block Obama’s climate plans, their party colleagues ruling as governors in states like Ohio, Kansas, North Dakota and South Dakota support the president in the expansion of wind energy.
Obama brought an entrepreneur and flaming environmental protectionist into his cabinet with Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell. Secretary of State John Kerry also made a name for himself as an environmental protectionist in the Senate. Near the end of Obama’s second term of office in December 2015, Kerry will take over an important task as the chief negotiator of the U.S. at the summit on climate change in Paris.
*Editor’s note: While accurately translated, we were unable to verify these quotations.