Obama administration: Energy sector at risk due to climate change

Laurel Contributor
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The Department of Energy warned that the energy sector is increasingly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and extreme weather, in a report released Thursday.

The report urges the U.S. to implement preventative policy measures despite acknowledging that the effects of climate change have yet to be fully understood.

“Actions to build resilience do not need to wait for a complete understanding of climate change and extreme weather impacts, as there will always be uncertainty,” the report concluded. “Plans can be adjusted as understanding of impacts increases.”

These plans include “enabling national and sub-national policies and incentives to overcome existing market barriers,” and promoting measures of “integration of energy sector climate risks into different levels of development planning and maximize benefits of adaptation to multiple sectors.”

On June 25, President Obama outlined the details of his plans during an address at Georgetown University, by saying that he is “directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants.”

The report warns that “existing barriers may limit more widespread action.” One such barrier is a lack of a policy framework or adequate market signals for investments in resilience.

But, the administration’s ambitious plans are already being met with some obstacles, according to an article featured on both the White House and Department of Energy’s websites. The administration said it is “already seeing many Republicans and some of the nation’s biggest polluters attack the President’s plan.”

The report warns of increasing air and water temperatures, decreasing water availability and “increasing intensity and frequency of storm events, flooding, and sea level rise,” and cites a raise in average annual temperature by approximately 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit across the United States since the beginning of the 20th century.

Warnings from the report include:

– Increasing temperatures will likely increase electricity demand for cooling and decrease fuel oil and natural gas demand for heating.

– Compounding factors may create additional challenges. For example, combinations of persistent drought, extreme heat events, and wildfire may create short-term peaks in demand and diminish system flexibility and supply, which could limit the ability to respond to that demand.

– Heat waves (a period of several days to weeks of abnormally hot weather, often with high humidity) have generally become more frequent and intense across the United States in the decades since 1960.

– Permafrost has thawed, and Alaskan Arctic sea ice cover has decreased (WMO 2013, NASA 2012, USGCRP 2009). In September 2012, Arctic sea ice cover reached its lowest seasonal minimum extent in the satellite record (i.e., since 1979), reinforcing the long-term trend.

– The growing season has increased by about two weeks since the beginning of the 20th century (EPA 2012a).

– Reduced sea ice coverage could trigger new environmental regulations and protections for Arctic mammals, which may limit development opportunities (Burkett 2011).

– A longer growing season could increase bioenergy production, while increasing temperatures could decrease bioenergy production.

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