Climate change: Obama announces new curbs on existing power plants (+video)
A feisty Obama – 'We don't have time for a meeting of the flat earth society' – cited a list of projects to address climate change, but the centerpiece is crimping smokestack emissions from coal-fired power plants.
Seeking to propel the US faster into the fray on curbing climate change, President Obama laid out an aggressive plan Tuesday to sharply curb smokestack emissions of existing coal-fired power plants and to double wind, solar, and other renewable energy production from today’s levels.Skip to next paragraph
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Under a hot summer sun, wiping his brow repeatedly as if to underscore the presence of global climate change, Mr. Obama told an audience of students at Georgetown University that future generations of Americans – including their children – would have to live with the consequences of current US climate policy.
“We don't have time for a meeting of the flat earth society,” Obama said. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here.”
Though welcoming any support from lawmakers, he said he would forge ahead even without help from Congress, which has not been able to pass a climate change bill since Obama took office.
In going it alone, the president framed his program in terms of what he could accomplish solely with regulatory power of the executive branch in three areas: cutting carbon pollution using the Clean Air Act; preparing the US for the worst impacts of climate change through investment in infrastructure and technology; and leading diplomatic efforts to address the issue internationally.
Measures, he said, would include developing new efficiency standards for buildings and appliances, expanding energy sources like solar and wind on public lands, and bolstering climate-change affected communities. It would also mean investments in a hardened power grid, highways, sea walls, and other infrastructure to prepare for more damaging storms and other impacts of global warming.
The fate of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, he suggested, would be determined by whether or not it would contribute to global warming through a net increase in greenhouse gases – or not.
By far, the most significant and controversial part of the plan is his new mandate for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop regulations limiting greenhouse gas emissions from both new and existing coal-fired power plants. It's that part of the plan that holds the potential to reap huge gains – slashing carbon emissions as much as 500 million tons a year, according to a recent study by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The electric utility industry is the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for one-third of total US greenhouse gas emissions and about 40 percent of all carbon pollution from fossil fuel burning.
Newly proposed power plants were already in the EPA's cross-hairs for greenhouse gas regulations under the Clean Air Act. But the president’s move to expand such controls to existing plants can, all by itself, get Obama a long way toward his goal of a 17 percent reduction in US greenhouse gas emissions – from 2005 levels – by 2020.
There are, so far, precious few details on how the EPA will handle this mandate. But clues as to how it might happen can perhaps be found in recent reports by environmental groups – and in the president’s speech.