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Obama highlights climate push with new energy initiatives

By Adam Aigner-Treworgy, CNN
updated 11:13 AM EDT, Mon May 12, 2014

Mountain View, California (CNN) -- President Barack Obama on Friday announced a series of steps to boost energy efficiency and advance solar priorities in an effort to underscore green-job creation and combat carbon pollution.

Appearing at a Wal-Mart store in Mountain View, California, Obama said generating more clean energy and wasting less overall is good for consumers and the economy.

"Together, the commitments we're announcing today prove that there are cost-effective ways to tackle climate change and create jobs at the same time," Obama said to store employees and invited guests.

His appearance and the initiatives he announced also pushed back against those saying that addressing climate change will be too expensive or bad for the economy.

"Rising sea levels, drought, more wildfires, more severe storms, those are bad for the economy. So we can't afford to wait. There's no reason why we can't even go further than we are so far," Obama said.

National climate assessment

The measures he's taking by executive action largely build on initiatives from earlier in his administration, which has extended billions in taxpayer funds to foster a greener economy.

Obama also has pushed bolder efficiency targets on the federal government as well as the automotive, trucking and other sectors to reduce the use of carbon fuels and boost energy independence.

Dan Utech, a special assistant to the President for energy and climate change, said prior to the President's appearance that the initiatives will help cut pollution by more than 380 million metric tons of carbon, save businesses nearly $26 billion on their energy bills.

Obama said such gains can help businesses reinvest in their products and operations, and free them to hire more workers.

His appearance highlighted efforts by his administration to publicize a sober White House report this week on climate change.

The update to the National Climate Assessment said evidence of human-made climate change "continues to strengthen" and that "Americans are noticing changes all around them."

The Obama administration wants the report to ignite awareness of the need for government, communities, business and society at large to respond now to climate change in the face of fierce political opposition, mostly from conservatives.

Building efficiencies and solar

The new steps announced by Obama on Friday vary from job training for the solar energy industry to improving the efficiency of equipment, like escalators and refrigerator motors, to finalizing new building codes that reduce emissions on new construction.

One aims to increase the efficiency of federal buildings through $2 billion in new energy performance contracts issued over the next three years.

According to Mike Boots, acting director of the Council on Environmental Quality, these contracts use "long-term energy savings to pay for upfront costs" associated with upgrading buildings.

"We've already seen impressive progress here," Boots said in a preview of the President's announcement, pointing to a similar $2 billion commitment made in 2011.

Obama also used the visit to America's biggest retailer and economic bellwether to reveal commitments from more than 300 private companies and public sector organizations to make the buildings they use more energy efficient.

He said such gains can help businesses reinvest in their products and operations, and free them to hire more workers.

Companies like Clif Bar, Apple, Ikea, Home Depot and Whole Foods have committed to expand solar usage, officials said.

Wal-Mart's solar energy efforts were also highlighted by Obama, who said the administration would take more steps in that area that include new programs at community colleges directed at solar industry job training.

Wal-mart has set a goal of producing or procuring 7 billion kilowatt hours of renewable energy by 2020 and as part of that commitment announced plans Friday to double the number of solar projects at its facilities.

One way the administration has tried to set an example is by installing U.S.-made solar panels on the roof of the White House last summer as part of what spokesman Matt Lehrich called "an energy retrofit."

'Climate deniers'

In his remarks, Obama dismissed the shouts of "climate deniers" in Washington as a waste of time, proclaiming "climate change is a fact" and insisting that addressing it can be good for the business bottom line.

"We know the shift to clean energy won't happen overnight, we've got to make some tough choices along the way and we know that if we do it's going to save us ultimately money and create jobs over the long term," he said.

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