Obama to unveil climate change plan with sweeping emissions cuts (+video)
President Obama is expected to announce Tuesday a comprehensive new plan to combat climate change that includes cutting greenhouse-gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants – a move that could lead to a wave of plant closings.
Recognizing that Congress is unlikely to pass significant climate change legislation during his second term, President Obama will take some of the most sweeping measures available to him to unilaterally combat global warming.Skip to next paragraph
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The new plan, which Mr. Obama will unveil Tuesday at Georgetown University, is expected to include a ramping up of energy efficiency and renewable energy in addition to national preparations to deal with the meteorological and financial impacts of climate change. But by far the strongest element of the plan is a set of new regulations intended to slash greenhouse-gas emissions from existing coal-fired power plants – not just power plants built in the future.
Obama intends to issue a presidential memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency to implement new regulation of greenhouse-gas emissions under the authority of the Clean Air Act. The president's plan is an attempt to deliver on his promise to cut carbon emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, White House officials told reporters in a conference call Monday.
The move has the potential to cut annually hundreds of millions of tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) – a potent greenhouse gas – and far overshadow any carbon-emissions cuts the Obama administration has achieved so far through improved fuel-efficiency standards. But it could also accelerate the closure of many existing older coal-fired power plants across the country, which are already struggling to meet current standards.
"Nothing on this scale in the Clean Air Act has ever been attempted before," says Kevin Book, an energy analyst with ClearView Partners, an energy economics consulting firm in Washington. "This step will be the catalyst for the next wave of coal-fired power plant retirements. It's almost certainly going to get hung up in the courts for years."
Obama seeks to combat global warming in a variety of ways in the new plan. Among the highlights:
- Create new energy-efficiency standards for federal buildings and appliances.
- Ramp up enough clean-energy production on public lands to power 6 million homes by 2020.
- Extend $8 billion in loan-guarantee authority to accelerate investment in advanced fossil-energy and efficiency projects.
- End public financing of coal-fired plants overseas and push for free trade in clean-energy technologies.
But a concrete plan to reach a 17 percent cut in carbon emissions is seen as the cornerstone of Obama's move. That figure is widely considered a requirement for the US to be taken seriously in ongoing international climate talks. Obama wants to reinvigorate US efforts to lead in those talks, White House officials said.
They said the plan to address existing-power-plant emissions has a firm timeline – adding credibility to the effort. The goal is to finalize power plant emissions regulations by June 2015, long enough before Mr. Obama leaves office to be solidly in force before the next administration takes over.
"We know that we have to get to work quickly in order to not only propose, but finalize the rule," said a senior White House official. "The president will be directing the EPA to start that work."
Neither the briefing for reporters nor the fact sheet and background materials provided by the White House presented an estimate for the tonnage of carbon emissions expected to be cut overall. Electricity-generating power plants emit about 2.4 billion tons of CO2 each year, roughly 40 percent of the nation’s total emissions. But the plan was still received enthusiastically by environmentalists.