From washing machines to light poles to solar arrays, the White House is redoubling its efforts to expand the country’s solar power capacity and reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming.
On Friday morning, the Obama administration announced a new round of investments in energy-efficiency upgrades for federal buildings; new standards for walk-in coolers, freezers, refrigerated display cases and the electric motors that power escalators and elevators; an “Outdoor Lighting Accelerator” to replace more than 500,000 aging light posts in five cities; and a new program to train tens of thousands of community-college students to work in the solar industry.
“The commitments represent more than 850 megawatts of solar deployed – enough to power nearly 130,000 homes – as well as energy efficiency investments that will lower bills for more than 1 billion square feet of buildings,” the White House said in a statement.
The new appliances will also reduce carbon pollution by more than 380 million metric tons, it added, “equivalent to taking 80 million cars off the road for one year.”
The White House made the announcement just four days after the release of the third U.S. National Climate Assessment, a four-year study that found that communities across the country are already experiencing the effects of global warming through more frequent floods, worse droughts, stronger storms, longer allergy seasons and shorter frost freezes, and that the U.S. will need to take drastic action to avert far worse consequences.
The report and this latest announcement also fit within the Climate Action Plan that President Barack Obama unveiled in June 2013 to address climate change by reducing the country’s carbon footprint. In his State of the Union address in January, Obama added that he largely intends do so by working through the executive branch, cutting out a Congress that’s been hampered by partisan gridlock.
It’s a theme the White House returned to Friday:
“Obama is committed to making 2014 a year of action and has pledged to use the power of his phone and his pen to expand opportunity for all Americans,” the statement said.
Environmental groups have welcomed the administration’s green efforts.
"We must confront the underlying cause of climate change by cutting carbon pollution, investing in clean energy and saying no to dirty energy," Patty Glick, senior global warming specialist with the National Wildlife Foundation and a co-author of the National Climate Assessment, said in a statement following the assessment’s release Monday.
Industry groups, though, have called the assessment’s findings overblown, adding that environmental action could hamper the economy.
Laura Sheehan, senior vice president of communications for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, lambasted “the misguided priorities of this administration, which are completely out of sync with those of everyday, hardworking Americans – jobs and the economy, not political legacies.”
While polls have found that environmental issues do rank low on Americans’ list of concerns compared to jobs and national security, they’ve also revealed that a wide majority does support efforts to reduce global warming, even at some economic cost.
“The report confirms what numerous scientific authorities have been saying: Climate change is fundamentally altering our nation’s environment and poses a significant threat to our health and our economy,” Kevin Kennedy, director of the U.S. Climate Initiative at the World Resources Institute, said in a statement. “Thankfully, there are solutions available if leaders act quickly to tackle climate change head on.”