Energy Policy

3: Climate Policy is the New Energy Policy


About This Lesson

This lesson is structured to make you think about the interconnected nature of energy policy and climate policy. 

During the Trump Administration, the United States lost virtually all momentum behind meaningful national climate policy. Efforts to meet targets associated with the Paris Agreement were halted with our intent and then formal withdrawal from the compact. The Clean Power Plan was replaced with the Affordable Clean Energy Rule. These are just a few of the larger examples of efforts to undo work set in motion by the Obama Administration to help us meet our Paris Agreement targets. But that's in the past, and the Biden Administration is now working to try to get us back on track. We've rejoined the Paris Agreement, and the IIJA and the IRA both have hefty climate-friendly provisions which we'll explore in more detail later this semester, but for now I still want to take a minute to talk about the Clean Power Plan.

When considering the relative merits and challenges of addressing climate at the local scale, one issue that often comes up a lot as a benefit of local action is the ability to tailor the plans to the specific geographic, economic, and other circumstances of a location. But one of the challenges with thiis is that effectiveness may partially depend on support from higher levels of government. To some (myself included), the Clean Power Plan was the best of both worlds - it was national in scope, but allowed states the flexibility to craft their own paths forward to meet its targets. And while it's not active right now, I think we can use this as a model for how we can think about crafting large scale climate policy that is both effective (reaching large swaths of emissions generating activities) and flexible.

Here is a short clip put out by the Obama White House explaining the Clean Power Plan. However, if you're like me and want more detail, I recommend checking out the Press Conference (just under 30 minutes) from when President Obama announced the plan. While it might not seem immediately relevant given it's currently defunct, it still represents a fundamental shift in the way climate policy is crafted, creating a national umbrella with flexibility for states to meet requirements tailored to their own economic and environmental realities. In time, we may see something like this reemerge.

President Obama on America's Clean Power Plan (2:26)

President Obama on America's Clean Power Plan
Click here for the video transcript of President Obama on America's Clean Power Plan.

The President: Our climate is changing. It's changing in ways that threaten our economy, our security, and our health. This isn't opinion; it's fact, backed up by decades of carefully collected data and overwhelming scientific consensus. And it has serious implications for the way that we live now. We can see it and we can feel it: hotter summers; rising sea levels; extreme weather events like stronger storms, deeper droughts, and longer wildfire seasons. All disasters that are becoming more frequent, more expensive, and more dangerous. Our own families experience it too. Over the past three decades, asthma rates have more than doubled. And as temperatures keep warming, and smog gets worse, those Americans will be at even greater risk of landing in the hospital.

Climate change is not a problem for another generation. Not anymore. That's why, on Monday, my administration will release the final version of America's Clean Power Plan: the biggest, most important step we've ever taken to combat climate change. Power plants are the single biggest source of the harmful carbon pollution that contributes to climate change. But until now there have been no federal limits to the amount of that pollution those plants can dump into the air. Think about that. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals, like mercury and sulfur and arsenic, in our air and water, and we're better off for it. But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air we breathe.

For the sake of our kids, for the health and safety of all Americans, that's about to change. We've been working with states and power companies to make sure they've got the flexibility they need to cut this pollution, all the while lowering energy bills, ensuring reliable service, and paving the way for new job-creating innovations that help America lead the world forward. If you believe, like I do, that we can't condemn our kids and grandkids to a planet that's beyond fixing, then I'm asking you to share this message with your friends and family. Push your own communities to adopt smarter, more sustainable practices. Remind everyone who represents you that protecting the world we leave to our children is a prerequisite for your vote. Join us. We can do this. It's time for America and the world to act on climate change.

By the end of this Lesson, you will have a greater understanding of:

  • the inherent link and overlaps between energy policy and climate policy;
  • what climate policy looks like and the issues it specifically addresses;
  • US efforts (both nationally and at smaller scales) to address climate change, focusing both on the issues and the highly politicized volatility of the issue;
  • the importance (and complexity) associated with global cooperation to solve the climate crisis.

What is due this week?

This lesson will take us one week to complete. Please refer to the Calendar in Canvas for specific assignments, time frames and due dates.


If you have questions, please feel free to post them to the "Have a question about the lesson?" discussion forum in Canvas. While you are there, feel free to post your own responses if you, too, are able to help a classmate.