March 19, 2014

In the 2014 State of the Union Address, President Obama reaffirmed his administration’s commitment to take significant action on climate change.  As our powerful neighbor to the South, actions taken by the U.S. will have significant implications on trade, prosperity and on our climate – which, after all, knows no boundaries. Given the political opposition to comprehensive climate legislation in the U.S., Obama has adopted a multifaceted ‘all of the above’ strategy. Several recent policy commitments and regulatory developments provide a roadmap for U.S. efforts and arguably establish a standard by which Canada’s action on climate change can be evaluated.

 Develop a Plan: The most recent US Climate Action report to the UNFCCC described planned actions under President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, highlighting a number of key pillars, including: power plant regulations, energy and fuel efficiency standards, curbing HFC emissions, and fossil fuel subsidy reform.

 Set Targets for Renewable Energy Supply: In December 2013, President Obama issued an executive order demonstrating commitment to increasing supply of renewable energy by directing the federal government to triple its use of renewable energy by 2020, which would bring the government’s renewable energy usage to 20 percent.

 Identify Risks to Energy Infrastructure: In January, President Obama commissioned a Quadrennial Energy Review examining transformations in energy supply, markets, and use; issues of aging and capacity; impacts of climate change; and cyber and physical threats. The review is also expected to inform emissions reduction target-setting for post-2020.

 Dedicate Resources to Energy Efficiency and Environmental Emergencies: Earlier this year, Congress approved new funding for the Department of Energy for renewable energy and efficiency research, and $5.8 billion has been secured for the Army Corp of Engineers for environmental cleanup efforts.

 Target GHG emissions from Power Plants: In early January, the EPA published a historically significant proposed rule aimed at GHG emissions from new power plants to 1,100 pounds of CO2 per megawatt-hour. The standards will be much more challenging for new coal-fired power plants to meet, as it also requires new plants to capture 20-40% of CO2 emissions they produce.

 Pay Attention to Fracking Chemicals and Waste: A new rule which took effect March 1st now requires public reporting of fracking chemicals and fluids used in new drilling jobs in federal waters off the Santa Barbara coast. It may be used as a model for future offshore regulations in other U.S. jurisdictions.

 In late 2013, Prime Minister Harper stated that Canada has not yet released long awaited oil and gas regulations because it plans to move at the same pace as the U.S. However, given the current level of ambition of climate change and energy policy and regulation coming from the United States; it is clear that Canada has missed it’s opportunity to keep pace and there is the need, now, more than ever to play catch up.


By Rachel Ward,