Obama Climate Change
U.S. President Barack Obama pauses during a speech on the impacts of climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, June 25, 2013. REUTERS/Larry Downing

President Barack Obama is preparing the U.S. for climate change by creating an agency that will “enhance climate preparedness and resilience,” he said in an executive order released Friday.

The statement calls for an interagency Council on Climate Preparedness and Resilience, which builds on Obama's 2009 directive to coordinate action on climate change across the federal government.

The council will work across agencies in partnership with state, county, local and tribal governments, academic and research institutions and the private and nonprofit sectors, the White House statement says. It will help develop, recommend and coordinate interagency efforts to track implementation of the federal government’s climate preparedness plans.

Establishing the council will help Obama coordinate his climate action plan, which aims to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

For 2009 through 2011, average U.S. emissions dropped to their lowest level for any three-year period since 1994 to 1996. This can be attributed in part to Obama’s ambitious plan to reduce carbon pollution with stringent long-term standards for vehicle emissions and efficiency, increased building and appliance efficiency, and doubling electricity generation from wind and solar, the report stated.

The President’s Climate Action Plan, released in June, builds on the 2009-11 progress in cutting carbon emissions. The administration also has put in place the country’s first ever national carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants.

“The recent anniversary of Superstorm Sandy serves as a stark reminder of how disruptions to our nation’s critical infrastructure have far-reaching economic, health, safety and security impacts,” Secretary of Energy Ernest Moniz said. "The President’s Executive Order on Climate Preparedness is an important step forward in our efforts to protect against the anticipated consequences of climate change, helping the Department of Energy and our federal counterparts strengthen partnerships with state, local and tribal communities to build a more resilient energy infrastructure.”

To meet the 2020 goal, the Department of Interior installed 10 gigawatts of renewable energy generation on public lands, which was ahead of schedule. The president then directed the DOI to add another 10 gigawatts. Since 2009, the DOI has approved 25 utility-scale facilities, nine wind farms and 11 geothermal plants, enough electricity to power 4.4 million homes.

A key component of the action plan is to expand and modernize the electric grid to save consumers money on energy bills while promoting cleaner sources of energy. In pushing these goals, Obama signed a memorandum this month to direct federal agencies to “streamline the siting, permitting and review process for transmission projects across federal, state and tribal governments.”

In the background of Obama’s climate action plan, the president is faced with a difficult decision on exploiting strategic and lucrative commodities while ensuring environmental protection, including the limiting of carbon emisions.

That debate is centered on the Keystone XL pipeline, which will bring crude oil from the Alberta tar sands to refineries in the U.S. Gulf Coast.

The company contracted to build the pipeline, TransCanada Corporation (NYSE:TRP), is seeking approval from the U.S. to start construction.

The energy giant has been waiting for Obama to make a decision since this summer, but approval has yet to be given. Currently Obama has delegated the State Department to determine whether the project is in the U.S. "national interest."

Obama, however, in a much-anticipated climate change speech in June, said his decision would be based on whether Keystone would produce more carbon emissions if completed. The Keystone XL would bring tar sands oil from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries. Opponents say extracting tar sands is extremely energy-intensive because it involves a solid rather than liquid material.

“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward," Obama said.

In response to Obama's new directive, the the Sierra Club's executive director, Michael Brune, stressed the importance of combating climate change.

“As Superstorm Sandy taught us, the costs of climate inaction are too high," Brune said in a statement. “The president recognizes this and his action today underscores the dire need for moving quickly to climate solutions like wind, solar, and energy efficiency to stem the climate crisis and protect our children’s future.”