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Dale Bryk’s Blog

President Obama's Plan: Supporting the Economy AND the Environment

Dale Bryk

Posted June 25, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Green Enterprise, Solving Global Warming, U.S. Law and Policy

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President Obama’s climate action plan doubles down on our investment in a clean energy future, providing an enormous boost to local economies and putting the United States on track to win the global clean technology race.

Our growing clean energy industries already give the lie to those who pit the economy against the environment. With new job announcements every week and 3.4 million people already employed across the country weatherizing homes, producing high-efficiency air-conditioning systems, installing solar panels and wind turbines, and developing advanced car batteries, we’ve shown we know how to do this.

And like the president, governors and mayors are leading the way in partnering with business to make America’s homes, offices, factories and vehicles more energy efficient, which not only employs a lot of people but lowers our energy bills.  

Here are our initial thoughts on the critical energy components of the president’s blueprint (stay tuned for more detailed analyses from my colleagues in the coming days):

Appliance standards

Under the president’s plan, the Department of Energy would increase performance standards for appliances and equipment, ensuring they work better but use less electricity. We have decades of success using standards to drive innovation and lower our energy bills in everything from refrigerators to industrial motors to light bulbs. 

Getting the same amount of light, heat or power with less electricity allows us to run dirty power plants less frequently, which lowers pollution. The president proposes to adopt standards that will slash emissions by a whopping 3 billion metric tons (cumulative savings) through 2030 -- roughly equivalent to about one-and-half times the annual carbon pollution from all coal and gas power plants in the United States!

Experience indicates we can deliver these savings. In addition, we’re identifying new opportunities for energy savings all the time.

Efficient buildings

Buildings account for more than 40 percent of total energy consumption, $450 billion in annual energy bills, and 38 percent of total U.S. carbon emissions. Recently, the President announced a Better Buildings Challenge that encourages building owners to cut their energy usage 20 percent, saving almost $100 billion and employing tens of thousands of Americans. Now, the president wants to add multi-family units to the industrial and commercial buildings already covered.

This goal is eminently achievable. Every day, building owners are improving their bottom lines by investing in energy efficiency measures like lighting upgrades, and study after study shows enormous savings remain largely untapped within America’s buildings.

Renewable energy

The United States more than doubled  electricity generation from wind, solar, and geothermal sources during the president’s first term, creating tens of thousands of clean energy jobs, and providing critical economic boosts for businesses and local communities. A potent combination of government policies, private sector investment and American ingenuity and hard work is building a vibrant solar energy sector in North Carolina, a strong wind energy industry in Kansas, and the most advanced electric vehicle in the world – the Tesla. Today the President said he wants to double renewable energy again by 2020. Expanding the amount of energy produced on our nation’s public land in an environmentally responsible manner ensures clean energy continues to grow – and helps meet our global warming challenge.

More Efficient Vehicles 

President Obama’s historic carbon pollution and fuel efficiency standards are already saving money and creating jobs. The 54.5 mpg car standards adopted last year mean that in 2025 new cars will consume half as much fuel as cars on the road today, saving consumers $8,000 over the life of their vehicles and resulting in over a half-million new jobs. Chrysler alone is hiring 1,250 people in Indiana, and that’s just for the new and improved Jeep Grand Cherokee. Two years ago, the administration adopted the first fuel efficiency standards for heavy trucks that will save truckers roughly $50 billion in fuel over the life of their vehicles. With today’s announcement, he’s extending those standards beyond 2018 to deploy more technologies that will further cut pollution and oil dependence while boosting the economy.

Existing Power Plant Standards

The president’s plan does not explicitly call out energy efficiency as a compliance strategy for existing power plants, but allowing this will provide states with important flexibility at extremely low cost while driving local job growth. We can typically invest in energy efficiency for half the price it costs us to get power from a fossil fuel power plant. Tremendous amounts of energy efficiency are still available. Efficiency investments have already avoided the need for hundreds of power plants nationwide, slashing millions of tons of carbon pollution, and there’s much more potential to save energy with more efficient heating and air-conditioning systems, insulation, windows, industrial motors, appliances, consumer electronics in every U.S. home, office, school, shop and factory -- (and we will have to employ a lot of people to capture those savings). 

Several states have proven we can quickly ramp up efficiency, even in places like Arizona, Ohio, and Michigan where we haven’t been at it very long. Utilities are scaling up efficiency programs nationwide, increasing investments from $2.7 billion in 2007 to nearly $7 billion in 2011, with a corresponding surge in energy savings and jobs. In Ohio, alone, utility efficiency efforts created more than 3,800 jobs through 2011 and will create more than 32,000 jobs by 2025.

For more detail on this element of the plan, see my colleague Sheryl Carter’s blog here.

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Clean energy is a vital part of the President’s plan to ensure both a healthy economy and healthy children, and we look forward to working with his administration to move this plan forward.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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