Tucked into the climate plan that President Obama unveiled today is an incomprehensibly large number that deserves some attention.
The president has set a goal that energy efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings set in his first and second terms combined will reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030. Three billion metric tons is equivalent to the entire world’s carbon emissions over 35 days (at humanity’s current rate of generating 1 million metric tons of carbon pollution about every 17 minutes). The president’s plan would effectively give the planet a month’s vacation from all carbon pollution.
But this vacation plan is no mere daydream. The Department of Energy is legally required to set or update federal minimum energy efficiency standards for more than a dozen products during the remainder of the president’s term. And according to a 2012 analysis from the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, the carbon pollution reductions attainable through strong standards are huge. ACEEE projected that efficiency standards for household appliances and commercial equipment set by 2015 could reduce carbon emissions by 134 million metric tons per year by 2025. These standards, covering products like home furnace fans and commercial air conditioners, would carry us much of the way to a carbon-free month for the planet.
Although the Department of Energy has much work to do, the first step towards giving the Earth a break is in the president’s hands. The White House’s Office of Management and Budget has consistently blocked DOE’s completion of efficiency standards by refusing to approve draft versions of the rules sent over for its review. The most egregious delay concerns the draft standards for commercial walk-in coolers and freezers, which have been gathering dust at OMB since September 2011. But three other draft standards have also been held captive at OMB for more than a year—far longer than the 90 days that OMB is usually allowed.
The Earth certainly deserves a month’s vacation from carbon pollution, but we’ll never get there if the president continues to leave OMB in charge.