President Barack Obama on Tuesday laid out his climate action plan, directing his administration to create policies that will increase energy efficiency and decrease carbon pollution.

"As a president, as a father and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act," he said at Georgetown University.

Obama warned of rising temperatures and sea level, the melting Arctic ice and how little the world is doing to stop any of it.

The price for inaction will be measured in lost lives, homes and hundreds of billions of dollars, he said.

Executives of local utility companies and businesses said they are already acting to reduce their carbon footprint, investing in cleaner business practices.

Power plants: Obama called for reduced emissions at power plants, and PPL Electric Utilities is already working to that end, according to spokesman Ryan Hill.

The energy provider serves about 8,000 customers in York County and operates the Holtwood generation facility along the Susquehanna River.

"We have invested pretty substantially -- $2.7 billion -- during the past five years to reduce greenhouse gas emissions," Hill said.

By 2015, that investment is expected to reach $5 billion, he said.

The money has been used for pollution-control technology at its coal-fired power plants and other facilities.

All of the company's coal-fired power plants in Pennsylvania have scrubbers to remove or reduce emissions, he said.


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"Those are the kinds of things the president is looking for, and PPL has been making those type of improvements," Hill said.

Last year, the company started to use more natural gas to generate electricity and also invested $700 million in hydroelectric generation -- including upgrades at Holtwood.

PPL also retired some of its coal-fired power plants and will retire three more plants in Kentucky by 2015.

"We're investing and will continue to invest in low-emissions or no-emissions generation," Hill said.

What these changes could mean to the average consumer is unclear.

"We're not opposed to regulations that balance environmental needs with consumer costs," he said.

Reviewing: First Energy, the parent company of Met-Ed, is still reviewing what Obama said, according to company spokesman Scott Surgeoner.

"We will continue to offer the best energy efficiency to Met-Ed customers, but we need more time to review more of Obama's plan," he said.

Met-Ed serves about 172,000 customers in York County.

The company currently complies with all state regulations facing energy providers, Surgeoner said.

Among the rules of Act 129, which was signed into law by former Gov. Ed Rendell in 2008, electric companies with at least 100,000 customers are directed to create conservation and energy-efficiency plans.

"We were also asked to create a 3 percent reduction in overall usage and reduce summer demand. Met-Ed has been able to meet or exceed those recommendations," Surgeoner said.

Global needs: But solutions won't be created by one company or even one country, Obama said. Climate change is no longer a distant threat, and it will take a global effort to protect the environment, he said.

Johnson Controls, a global company that specializes in energy efficiency, has many clients that understand the needs brought about by climate change, according to Dave Myers, president of Johnson Controls Building Efficiency.

The Milwaukee-based manufacturer has a campus in Spring Garden Township and is building a $148 million facility in Hopewell Township.

Energy efficiency saves money, reduces carbon pollution and makes buildings more valuable, Myers said.

Public policies and private investment need to work together toward a more energy-efficient global economy, he said.

Natural gas will play a big role in that energy efficiency, Obama said.

Last year, America's net oil imports fell to the lowest level in 20 years, and the country has become the world's leading producer of natural gas, he said.

Natural gas is the cleanest-burning fossil fuel, Obama said. The president's plan calls for increasing the share of electricity generated by natural gas.

"Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania is committed to meeting current and future environmental obligations," said spokeswoman Brynnly Mazzie.

Because of fewer emissions, natural gas leaves a smaller environmental footprint than other energy sources, she said.

"The energy-efficiency benefits of natural gas have a positive impact financially for our customers as well," Mazzie said.

For example, a household with natural gas spends almost 30 percent less than a household with all-electric appliances, she said.

It also leads to 37 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions, Mazzie said.

-- Candy Woodall can also be reached at cwoodall@yorkdispatch.com.