What You Need To Know About Obama’s Big Climate Change Push

President Obama made a big speech on climate change today, announcing everything from new power plant regulations to energy efficiency standards. Here’s what you should know.

What You Need To Know About Obama’s Big Climate Change Push
White House Flickr

In case you missed it, President Obama made a big speech on climate change today. He didn’t mess around. From new rules on power plants to measures boosting energy efficiency, Obama’s plan is comprehensive (and a pretty ballsy assertion of government authority). Below are the key points, along with what we can expect next.


The big things

Power plants produce 40% of greenhouse gas emissions. Obama announced new regulations on existing facilities, plus the finalization of stringent rules (previously announced by the Environmental Protection Agency) for new power plants. The regulations are likely to affect the coal industry most, either forcing operators to buy mitigating equipment or shut down plants completely (the EPA also has new rules limiting mercury and soot emissions, which affect the same industry).

Energy efficiency has long been a key feature of Obama’s policies. Today’s speech announced new standards on appliances–like fridges–as well as buildings. Obama also announced increased fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks–particularly juicy low-hanging fruit.

On the renewable energy front, Obama said the administration will increase funding for solar, wind and geothermal projects on public lands. That may not sound like a big deal, but we have 650 million acres of space where these projects could go. The president wants the projects to power six million homes by 2020. He also wants military installations to produce three gigawatts of renewable energy a year by 2025.

The smaller but still important things

  • A target to increase the federal government’s use of renewable energy to 20% in seven years.
  • $8 billion in loan guarantees for advanced fossil fuel technology as well as carbon capture and sequestration projects.
  • An end to US financial support for coal plants overseas (unless they employ carbon capture technology).
  • Climate adaptation. Investment and better education for communities, hospitals and farmers coping with global warming and its impacts.

This is only the beginning

The plan–particularly the power plant centerpiece–is sure to be contested by utilities, coal-producing states, and groups like the US Chamber of Commerce. Though in theory the Clean Air Act gives the EPA wide authority on pollution, in practice that authority is open to litigation. That could delay implementation for years. The EPA is also likely to take its time. It doesn’t plan to issue the existing plant rules for another year, and it will probably be a year after that before it finalizes them. We could be into the next election cycle before it becomes clear what today’s speech really means.

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.