Environmental groups seek to rally support for Obama`s climate action plan

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Courtesy of Bloomberg BNA

Environmental advocates have held rallies and public outreach events and are rolling out advertisements to build public opinion in support of President Obama's climate change plan.

The events, including public rallies, screenings of environmental films, and advertisements targeting congressional Republicans who doubt the science of climate change, are intended to show that Obama's plans to promote clean energy and regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants have broad public support.

Though Obama's climate plan consists entirely of executive action, environmental groups said the rallies and outreach are important for demonstrating public support for addressing climate change. Significant public support could prevent Congress from impeding Obama's climate plans or even encourage lawmakers to draft a comprehensive approach to climate change, environmental advocates said.

“We're really encouraged by [Obama's] climate plan. We've been waiting a really long time for him to show leadership.”

Daniel Kessler, 350.org

“There are things they can do to throw a wrench in the plan from defunding [the Environmental Protection Agency] to doing a congressional review of the regulations,” Daniel Kessler, a spokesman for 350.org, told BNA Aug. 8. “We don't have much time to spend debating this point.”

350.org is an advocacy group that promotes action to keep carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere at 350 parts per million.

President Obama outlined his climate action plan, which includes regulating power plant emissions, June 25. The plan requires the Environmental Protection Agency to repropose new source performance standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new fossil fuel-fired power plants by Sept. 20.

The plan also requires the State Department to deny approval of the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline unless it does not “significantly exacerbate” the nation's carbon pollution. It also emphasizes large investments in renewable energy, calling for a reduction in carbon emissions of 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030 through greater efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings and international engagement on the issue of climate change (123 DER A-26, 6/26/13).

Events Held in 21 States

Organizing for Action, a nonprofit created by Obama from his re-election campaign staff in January to push his agenda, held a series of public outreach events in 21 states and Washington, D.C., Aug. 13 to rally support for the president's climate plan. Events include meetings to discuss the impact of climate change, phone banking in support of greater energy efficiency, and film screenings.

The Obama group also has recently begun handing out “Climate Denier Awards” shaped like unicorns to members of Congress who question the science of climate change.

Many of the environmental groups organizing in support of Obama's climate plan are particularly focusing on the power plant regulations.

Separately, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) has begun an investigation into whether EPA and the White House Council on Environmental Quality have improperly coordinated with Organizing for Action on Obama's climate change plan (see related story in this issue).

EPA's performance standards for new power plants are expected to have negligible climate benefits because the power sector is already moving from coal to cleaner natural gas. Completing that rule will trigger a requirement to issue comparable emissions guidelines for existing plants under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act that would be administered by the states. Electricity generation accounted for one-third of the United States' greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, according to EPA.

The Sierra Club organized a comment drive for the performance standard EPA issued in April 2012, which would have set an emissions limit of 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt-hour of generation. The environmental group is planning a similar effort once EPA reproposes the performance standard in September. EPA sent its latest proposal to the White House Office of Management and Budget for review July 2.

“Starting in September, we'll be doing a lot of work to build support for the new source standards and to demonstrate Americans want action on climate change and carbon pollution,” Sierra Club spokesman Eitan Bencuya told BNA.

Industries Warn of Costs

Industry groups have not yet announced any comparable public outreach plans, but the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association warned in a recent video that regulating power plant emissions could raise electricity prices for consumers and businesses.

“The president's plan would increase electricity costs on all Americans, and that is a tax we can least afford when our economy is just beginning to recover,” Chief Executive Officer Jo Ann Emerson said in the video.

Howard Feldman, director of regulatory scientific affairs at the American Petroleum Institute, told reporters Aug. 7 that his group plans to wait for EPA's proposed power plant standards and offer comments then.

“Whatever precedents get set in that may get rolled out into other industries, including refining,” he said.

EPA agreed to issue similar greenhouse gas performance standards for petroleum refineries as part of a December 2010 settlement with states and environmental groups. However, the agency has missed all of the agreed-upon deadlines and has not said when it might begin working on the proposed rule.

Environmental Groups Build Support

The League of Conservation Voters organized an online pledge to garner support for Obama's climate plan. The intention is to demonstrate the plan's popularity, forcing members of Congress to act to address climate change comprehensively, spokesman Jeff Gohringer told BNA.

“The president outlined a really ambitious plan that's popular with the America people,” Gohringer said. “Our goal is to show just how popular it is. Hopefully members of Congress on the Hill will see that and stop trying to stand in the way.”

Recent polling by the League of Conservation Voters found that climate change was considered a pressing concern, particularly by voters under the age of 35.

Of those, 65 percent said that climate change is already having an impact on their lives. While 80 percent of Obama supporters polled favored taking action on climate change, so did 56 percent of those who have an unfavorable impression of the president, the League of Conservation Voters said.

The league also is targeting 15 congressional Republicans in a series of national television ads highlighting their opposition to action on climate change. The environmental group is targeting House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), and Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) as “climate change deniers” as part of the ad campaign.

LCV: Americans Tired of Inaction

“The American people are tired of Washington politicians ignoring basic scientific facts and standing in the way of action on climate change,” Gene Karpinski, president of the League of Conservation Voters, said in an Aug. 12 statement. “This ad campaign shows that members of Congress won't be able to sweep their extreme, anti-science voting records under the rug.”

350.org also plans to host a series of rallies around the country Sept. 21 in opposition to the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The rallies will demonstrate the effects of climate change across the country, highlighting wildfires in Colorado and sea level rise in Florida.

While environmental groups plan to pressure congressional Republicans opposed to climate change regulations, they also said the intent is to keep pressure on Obama, who did not make a significant effort on the issue during his first term.

“We're really encouraged by his climate plan,” Kessler said. “We've been waiting a really long time for him to show leadership.”

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