NRDC President Frances Beinecke for The Huffington Post:
The United States broke one record after another for extreme weather in 2013. From deadly floods in Colorado to prolonged drought across the Southwest, Americans saw what unchecked climate change can do to our communities. But we also witnessed another kind of powerful force: real and positive climate action.
In cities and state capitols, businesses and federal agencies, people around the country embraced effective ways to reduce global warming pollution. They expanded wind and solar power. They designed innovative ways to use energy more efficiently. And they called for cleaning up dirty power plants that fuel climate change and threaten our health.
Much more work needs be done to defuse the threat of climate change, but America took major steps forward this year. Here are a few highlight from 2013:
Obama Releases National Climate Action Plan. This was breakthrough -- the moment when the president committed to concrete action that can deliver on his rhetoric. In June, he released a national climate plan and directed the EPA to create the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from the largest source in the country: power plants. NRDC's experts estimate these standards could cut carbon pollution 26 percent by 2020 and save people money on electricity bills. This represents real and far-reaching carbon reductions, and together with the clean car standards finalized in 2012, will help America make our air safer to breath and our climate more stable for future generations.
Efficiency Expands and Becomes Our Biggest Energy Resource. Thanks to pressure from NRDC and other groups, four long-delayed federal efficiency standards were finalized. Just one of these standards -- for electric motors that consumer about half the electricity in the country -- could save enough electricity to power every home in the US for a year. Standards like these have led to an extraordinary development: efficiency contributed more to growing energy needs in the last 40 years than oil, gas and nuclear combined, according to an October report from the Bipartisan Policy Center.
Solar Power Has a Banner Year. The solar industry had its second largest quarter on record this year, deploying 35 percent more than the same quarter last year. Indeed, the industry has grown twentyfold over the last decade, and now employs about 120,000 Americans.
Obama Says Keystone XL Pipeline Must Pass Climate Test. The administration is poised to decide the fate of the Keystone XL pipeline for hauling dirty tar sands oil from Alberta to the Gulf Coast for export. The project would unleash an enormous surge in global warming pollution, leaving our communities to deal with more extreme weather and costly damage. These consequences can no longer be ignored. In June the president said, "The pipeline's impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward." The pipeline fails this test, and the administration must reject it.
Statehouses Preserve Clean Energy Standards from Fossil-Fuel Attack. When fossil fuel companies and their allies tried to repeal clean energy standards in Kansas and North Carolina, local leaders beat them back. Wind farms in Kansas have created more than 12,300 jobs for residents, and North Carolina's clean energy economy has generated more than 11,500 jobs in the past two years alone. It's no wonder nearly 30 states have renewable energy standards: they generate economic growth and clean power, and residents don't want to give them up.
Two Climate Champions Step into the Spotlight. In July, Gina McCarthy was confirmed to lead the EPA. McCarthy brings a track record of common-sense, bipartisan leadership on climate change. Before coming to the EPA, she helped launch the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which saved consumers more than $1.3 billion in energy costs. Shortly after being confirmed she proposed limits on carbon pollution for new power plants. In December, John Podesta announced he would join the White House as an advisor to the president. The former Clinton chief of staff and chair of the Center for American Progress has long been a strong supporter of climate action. Both leaders will be instrumental in putting President Obama's low-carbon policies into action.
Need to Keep the Pressure On in 2014. I am proud of the progress we made in 2013, but we have to stay focused if we want to keep moving forward. Obstacles already loom in our way. Fossil fuel companies are trying to block carbon standards outright or make them as weak as possible, and they will keep trying to rollback renewable energy standards at the state level. If we want to shield our families from extreme weather, clean up dangerous pollution and leave our children with a more stable future, we have to fight back. We have to demand more clean power. We have to insist that when the administration proposes carbon limits for power plants in June that they create the pollution cuts we need. And we have to call on President Obama to reject the Keystone XL pipeline for dirty tar sands oil. Let's make 2014 another breakthrough year for climate action.
This article orginally appeared on The Huffington Post.
Photo: The 15-megawatt solar array at Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada. (Wikimedia Commons)