June 25, 2013

Obama details sweeping plan to tackle climate change

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared the debate over climate change and its causes obsolete Tuesday as he announced a wide-ranging plan to tackle pollution and prepare communities for global warming.

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President Barack Obama speaks about climate change on Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington.

AP

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Highlights of Obama's plan

REDUCE POLLUTION

— Issue a presidential memorandum to launch the first-ever federal regulations on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

— Revise and reissue proposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions from new power plants.

— Provide up to $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to spur investment in efficiency projects and advanced fossil energy, including technology to limit carbon emissions.

— Expand permitting for renewable energy projects like wind and solar on public lands, with a goal of powering more than 6 million homes by 2020.

— Set a goal of installing 100 megawatts of renewable energy projects on federally assisted housing projects by 2020.

— Take more aggressive steps to increase efficiency for appliances and federal buildings, with a goal of reducing carbon dioxide pollution by 3 billion metric tons overall by 2030.

— Develop a new set of fuel-economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles.

PREPARE FOR CLIMATE CHANGE

— Create a National Drought Resilience Partnership to help communities, farmers and landowners prepare for droughts and wildfires.

— Promote climate change preparedness by creating a toolkit for local governments and businesses, and by partnering with hospitals.

— Update flood risk reduction standards that all federally funded projects must meet.

GLOBAL EFFORTS

— Work with China, India and other major polluting countries to reduce emissions.

— End U.S. public financing for new coal-fired power plants in other countries. Plants in the poorest countries using the most efficient technology available would be exempt.

In a major speech at Georgetown University, Obama warned Americans of the deep and disastrous effects of climate change, urging them to take action before it's too late.

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

Obama announced he was directing his administration to launch the first-ever federal regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by new and existing power plants — "to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution."

Other aspects of the plan will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

Even before Obama unveiled his plan Tuesday, Republican critics in Congress were lambasting it as a job-killer that would threaten the economic recovery. Obama dismissed those critics, noting the same arguments have been used in the past when the U.S. has taken other steps to protect the environment.

"That's what they said every time," Obama said. "And every time, they've been wrong."

Obama also offered a rare insight into his administration's deliberations on Keystone XL, an oil pipeline whose potential approval has sparked an intense fight between environmental activists and energy producers.

The White House has insisted the State Department is making the decision independently, but Obama said Tuesday he's instructing the department to approve it only if the project won't increase overall, net emissions of greenhouse gases.

"Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interests," Obama said. "Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

A top aide to House Speaker John Boehner said the remarks indicated that the pipeline should be approved.

"The standard the president set today should lead to speedy approval of the Keystone pipeline," Boehner spokesman Brendan Buck said.

Still, environmentalist took heart in Obama's remarks, noting it was the first time the administration had directly linked approval of the pipeline to its effect on pollution. The White House has previously resisted efforts by environmental groups to link the Keystone project to broader effort curb carbon pollution from power plants.

Obama touted America's strengths — research, technology and innovation — as factors that make the U.S. uniquely poised to take on the challenges of global warming. He mocked those who deny that humans are contributing to the warming of the planet, adding that he "doesn't have much patience" for anybody who refuses to acknowledge the problem.

"We don't have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society," Obama said.

Obama's far-reaching plan marks the president's most prominent effort yet to deliver on a major priority he laid out in his first presidential campaign and recommitted to at the start of his second term: to fight climate change in the U.S. and abroad and prepare American communities for its effects. Environmental activists have been irked that Obama's high-minded goals never materialized into a comprehensive plan.

By expanding permitting on public lands, Obama hopes to generate enough electricity from renewable energy projects such as wind and solar to power the equivalent of 6 million homes by 2020, effectively doubling the electric capacity federal lands now produce. He also set a goal to install 100 megawatts of energy-producing capacity at federal housing projects by the end of the decade.

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