New Obama climate plan may draw from panel's recommendations
Author: Valerie Volcovici
Clues about what to expect in a White House package of climate measures expected within weeks might be found in a report given to the president in March by a blue-chip team of scientists and business leaders.
The President's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology (PCAST), led by President Barack Obama's chief science adviser John Holdren, listed six major components that should be central to the administration's second-term climate change strategy.
The document outlined a mix of measures that different federal agencies could take on, such as power plant emissions standards by the Environmental Protection Agency and more research and development for carbon capture by the Department of Energy.
"We gave him a series of suggestions. It is his internal team - led by Holdren - that is looking at those and other ideas as they develop the strategy," said PCAST member Daniel Schrag, director of the Harvard University Center for the Environment.
Heather Zichal, Obama's energy and climate policy adviser, confirmed on Wednesday that an announcement on climate change measures is coming within weeks, and gave the most details so far of what might be in, and out, of the package.
The administration plans to feature policies that don't require congressional action or extra funding, such as moves to expand energy efficiency standards for appliances, accelerate clean energy development on public lands and use the Clean Air Act to tackle greenhouse gas emissions, Zichal said.
Soon after his re-election in November, Obama tasked PCAST, whose members include Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, with making recommendations on a climate change agenda that he could roll out after inauguration.
Ernest Moniz, then a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and now U.S. Energy Secretary, was a member at the time the report was put together but has stepped down.
Schrag said the group rushed to outline recommendations by March. The plan was released by the White House on March 22 as a nine-page report and blog post.
While he does not know which of the group's recommendations Obama will ultimately use, Schrag said PCAST focused on politically feasible measures.
The main recommendations included climate change preparedness; shifting away from coal use and regulating power plants; providing incentives for clean energy and energy efficiency; continued research and development; international engagement; and conducting energy reviews every four years.
"These changes are not particularly expensive. The opportunities and issues such as using energy more efficiently which we recommend can only benefit the economy," said PCAST member Mario Molina, a Nobel Prize-winning professor of chemistry at the University of California at San Diego.
The group also recognized that shale gas production should play a major role in reducing carbon emissions in the short and medium term, but said regulations should be developed in some cases to reduce methane leakage and ensure water safety.
Among the measures it suggested to give incentives to clean energy user were extending tax credits now available to wind farms to other forms of renewable energy, and lengthening the time between renewals from two years to five or 10.
PCAST said that the White House should also engage in international cooperation on climate and energy issues. That suggestion bore fruit this month with the agreement between the United States and China to reduce hydrofluorocarbons, a potent greenhouse gas.
The recommendations also gave equal weight to measures aimed at helping the nation adapt to the impacts of climate change.
Their suggestions include developing plans to update U.S. infrastructure to make transportation, energy and water delivery systems more resilient to extreme weather, and to create a central commission to oversee national preparedness efforts.
"We talked to the president a variety of times about climate change and it was clear that there has been a crystallization in the administration's mind that we are needing to be prepared to cope with climate impacts," said Rosina Bierbaum, Dean of the University of Michigan School of Natural Resources and Environment.
The PCAST recommendations can be found here: here
(Editing by Ros Krasny and Eric Walsh)