Obama to emphasize green grid, infrastructure in budget, SOTU — Podesta 

Source: Jean Chemnick, E&E reporter • Posted: Thursday, December 4, 2014

President Obama believes he can work with incoming Republican congressional majorities on reforming the tax code, upgrading crumbling infrastructure and greening the power grid, White House senior counselor John Podesta told a smart grid industry gathering today.

Those issues will be reflected in Obama’s State of the Union address and in the fiscal 2015 budget request “that we’re finalizing as we speak,” he said.

“President Obama is committed to continuing to try to work with Congress,” he said.

Speaking to the National Summit on Smart Grid and Climate Change in suburban Washington, D.C., Podesta said yesterday’s major power outage in Detroit will show how vulnerable the grid has become due to insufficient maintenance.

New investment in the grid will lead to a less carbon-intensive power system that allows states to implement the “crown jewel” of Obama’s second-term climate agenda, U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan proposal, he said.

Podesta acknowledged that while EPA acts, comprehensive climate legislation will be out of reach for the next “couple years,” but he predicted that the appetite for Congress to act will grow as local communities continue to suffer the effects of warming.

Podesta, who has directed Obama’s climate messaging since his return to the White House a year ago, has placed special emphasis on the importance of local communities in responding to global warming.

Communities, he said, are “not waiting for Congress” before investing in resilience and efficiency.

“If they were going to wait, they’d probably be waiting a long time,” he said.

Podesta has presided over a series of incremental programs and initiatives directed from the White House aimed at arming local governments and the private sector with federal tools to cope with warming. Today’s addition was the announcement of 16 winners of EPA’s Climate Action Champions for Leadership on Climate Change.

The cities and local governments that won will not receive direct funding, but they each will get a federal liaison to help them access federal resources to better prepare for warming.

While much of his messaging and focus has been local, Podesta was also instrumental in putting together the administration’s post-2020 emissions-reduction commitments, which were unveiled last month together with a Chinese commitment to cap emissions by or before 2030.

He said today that the White House is “satisfied” with the president’s pledge to slash emissions of greenhouse gases by between 26 and 28 percent by 2025 — a promise that will be achievable, he said, as long as the executive branch remains committed to it.

“We’re building our game plan around authorities that exist in current law,” he said.

As for China’s goal, Podesta defended it by noting that the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter will have to build as much zero-carbon energy by 2030 as it has coal-fired generation now.

He added that he expected China to exceed its commitments.

“We believe they can do so earlier, and in fact we think they will do so earlier,” he said.

The announcement by the two world powers — which came one year before the U.N. process is to produce an international agreement on emissions — is “one of the most powerful market signals” for other countries about the future of world energy, he said.

The world’s third-largest emitter, India, has been a more consistent challenge, he said, both in the context of the U.N. climate talks — which kicked off Monday in Lima, Peru — and in negotiations over the Montreal Protocol. The United States has sought an amendment to the treaty governing ozone-depleting substances that would phase down use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, but India has historically opposed it.

But Podesta noted that Obama continues to raise the issue of climate change with India, and will do so again during a visit to that country in January. The new Indian government gives reason to hope the country’s position might shift, he said.

“The bureaucracy kind of rolls along, but I think the new prime minister is quite interested in trying to boost growth, have that be more broadly shared across the country, and tackle some of the problems that they’re going to have pretty deeply on climate change,” he said.