WASHINGTON- Appealing for action "before it's too late," President Barack Obama launched a major second-term drive Tuesday to combat climate change, bypassing Congress as he sought to set a cornerstone of his legacy.
Obama issued a dire warning at Georgetown University about the environment: Temperatures are rising, sea level is climbing, the Arctic ice is melting and the world is doing far too little to stop it.
"As a president, as a father and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act," Obama said. "I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing."
President Barack Obama wipes his face as he speaks about climate change Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington.
At the core of Obama's plan are more controls on new and existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide - heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. The program also will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures. Obama called for the U.S. to be a global leader in the search for solutions.
But Obama's campaign will face extensive obstacles, including a complicated, lengthy process of implementation and the likelihood that the limits on power plants will be challenged in court. Likewise, the instantaneous political opposition that met his plan made clear the difficulty the president will face in seeking broad support.
"There will be legal challenges. No question about that," former EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said in an interview. "It's a program that's largely executive. He doesn't need Congress. What that does, of course, is make them (opponents) madder."
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS ON THE PRESIDENT'S CLIMATE CHANGE PLAN
- What are the main goals of this "Climate Action Plan?"
The White House plan includes three main policy tracks. The first addresses emissions of greenhouse gases, chiefly carbon dioxide (CO2), from new and existing power plants. This would for the first time place limits on greenhouse gas emissions from more than 1,000 existing coal-fired power plants, and possibly natural gas plants as well.
The second track helps prepare the U.S. for the effects of climate change that are already occurring and are likely to occur in the next several decades due to the long-lived nature of CO2 in Earth's atmosphere.
Lastly, the policy proposals include provisions to work with the international community to address global warming, both from an emissions reduction and climate adaptation standpoint.
- Is this the same thing as a "cap and trade" plan?
No, Congress rejected a cap and trade plan in 2009, which would have set an economy-wide price on carbon emissions and allowed electric utilities and other large emitters of greenhouse gases to buy and trade emissions credits that would encourage a reduction in emissions in an economically efficient manner.
- How can the president's goals be achieved?
The proposals are all designed to be implemented through the Executive Branch. For example, the Environmental Protection Agency will be in charge of drafting and implementing the rules on power plant emissions, while the Interior Department would be tasked with increasing the use of renewable energy on public lands.
- Will this cost taxpayers anything?
Yes, but it's unclear how much. Electric utilities are likely to pass some of the costs of complying with new EPA power-plant emissions regulations on to consumers. How high rates rise will depend on a wide range of factors that are not going to be clear until the regulations are spelled out and implemented.
- How likely is it that these rules will be put in place during Obama's presidency?
The White House plans to issue the draft power plant emissions rule by June of 2014, with implementation a year later. However, those rules will no doubt be subject to legal challenges by electric utilities and others who are concerned about the potential costs, so it's quite possible that the power-plant rules won't go into effect under the Obama administration.
- Can Congress undo what the White House is proposing?
Congress may be able to use its budgetary authority to limit the scope of the power plant regulations in particular. For example, Congress can prohibit agencies like the EPA from spending money to enforce particular regulations.
- Haven't U.S. carbon emissions already been going down?
Thanks largely to the recent recession and the displacement of coal by natural gas in the power sector, last year's U.S. emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) have been a lowest in a couple decades.
Will the U.S. meet its emissions goals for 2050?
It is unlikely that the measures included in this plan would set the U.S. on course to meet the goal of emissions reductions of 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050 goal.
Source: Climate Central
Obama also offered a rare insight into his deliberations on whether to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, deeming it in America's interests only if it doesn't worsen carbon pollution. Obama has faced intense political pressure from supporters and opponents of the 1,200-mile pipeline from Canada to Texas.
Declaring the scientific debate over climate change and its causes obsolete, Obama mocked those who deny that humans are contributing to the warming of the planet.
"We don't have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society," Obama said.
Republicans on both sides of the Capitol dubbed Obama's plan a continuation of his "war on coal" and "war on jobs. The National Association of Manufacturers claimed Obama's proposals would drive up costs.