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Industry mostly skeptical of Obama climate plan

2:08 PM MDT | June 28, 2013 | —Vincent Valk

Industry groups, including ACC and American Fuels and Petrochemicals Manufacturers (AFPM; Washington), have issued mostly critical reactions to President Obama’s federal climate change action plan. The plan, announced in a speech on 25 June, is a series of executive-branch initiatives designed cut US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. “This plan begins with cutting carbon pollution by changing the way we use energy: using less dirty energy; using more clean energy; wasting less energy throughout our economy,” President Obama said in his speech at Georgetown University.

new climate plan: Obama seeking to control emissions from power plants, HFCs, and methane.

Goals in the plan include cutting GHG emissions by 3 million m.t. by 2030 through federal energy-efficiency standards, permitting renewable energy generation on public lands with enough capacity to power 6 million homes, and 20% increases in energy efficiencies for commercial, industrial, and multifamily residential buildings by 2020.

The plan also calls for cutting emissions of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) and methane. HFCs currently comprise 1.5% of US GHG emissions, and that level is expected to double by 2030, the Obama administration says. The administration will instruct the EPA to “identify and approve climate-friendly chemicals” that can be used in common HFC applications, such as air conditioning and refrigeration. The administration will seek to prohibit the use of the the most harmful HFCs, it says.

US authorities will also work with industry to reduce methane emissions, including reductions in venting and flaring in oil and gas production. US methane emissions have fallen by 8% since 1990. however methane is 20 times more potent as a GHG than carbon dioxide.

The administration also says it will “promote fuel-switching from coal to gas for electricity production.” Many US chemical makers are banking on abundantly available shale gas as cheap feedstock for new crackers, and some have expressed concern that gas will be diverted to power generation.

An ACC statement critcizes the plan’s emphasis on natural gas for power generation. “[The] proposals did not appear to reflect an effective, pragmatic approach to allow the US to fully capitalize on this unique opportunity, and we are concerned that they could harm the diversity of America’s energy supplies by targeting specific energy sources,” ACC president and CEO Cal Dooley says. “Any effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be complemented by a comprehensive national energy strategy that incorporates all energy resources, including coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear power, alternatives, and renewables, in order to ensure an affordable, reliable energy future for American families and American industry.”

AFPM president Charles Drevna is sharply critical of the plan. “Unfortunately, the overall plan is poised to once again pick winners and losers among energy producers, but at the end of the day, the biggest loser will be the US economy,” he says. Drevna has expressed hope that the administration will approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Alberta to the US Gulf Coast, however.

DuPont, meanwhile, has expressed support for the plan’s energy efficiency, renewables, and HFC efforts. “Absent Congressional action, we think that prudent and cost-effective steps can be taken administratively in the US and welcome the president’s announcement on actions the administration will take. In particular, we think the president’s planned activities in the areas of efficiency, renewable energy, and HFCs are constructive, and we applaud his leadership,” says DuPont chief sustainability officer Linda Fisher.

EU leaders have also showed support, noting that climate change is a global challenge. “I am of course glad to see that the United States is finally moving on climate. After a number of important speeches from President Obama and Secretary [of State John] Kerry, Europe has been eagerly waiting for the US to set out concrete steps. So this plan is a most-welcomed step forward and, if implemented, it can put the US on a path towards a low carbon future,” says EU climate action commissioner Connie Hedegaard. “Europe will continue working to get all our partners on board for the ambitious action our planet demands. But we need all the world’s major economies to play ball.”

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