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Obama Unveils New Clean Energy Rules

  • Aru Pande

President Barack Obama unveiled new regulations Monday aimed at cutting carbon pollution that comes from the nation’s power plants.

"I'm convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future than climate change," the president said during the unveiling.

Obama’s Clean Power Plan would reduce reliance on coal-fired electricity and move the country further towards renewable energy.

Under the plan, power plants would reduce their carbon emissions by 32 percent below 2005 levels by the year 2030. The plan cuts emissions about 9 percent deeper than a preliminary version of the regulations released last year.

In his remarks at the White House, the president argued time is running out on taking action against climate change.

“This is one of those rare issues, because of its magnitude, because of its scope, that if we don’t get it right, we may not be able to reverse. And we may not be able to adapt sufficiently,” Obama said in the East Room. “There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change.”

Curbing emissions

Calling the Clean Power Plan “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change,” Obama noted power plants are responsible for a third of the country’s carbon pollution, more than cars, homes and airplanes combined.

Under the new Environmental Protection Agency standards announced Monday, individual states would be responsible for coming up with their own plans to meet the target to reduce plant emissions, but under the new plan they would get two more years to do so. The plans would have to go into effect by 2022.

To reinforce the impact, the U.S. president noted the regulations will cut the number of premature deaths from power plant emissions by 90 percent and reduce the number of pollutants that can lead to asthma attacks by 70 percent.

The new plan would increase the amount of power in the United States that is generated by renewable energy sources to 28 percent.

Power companies have been converting their energy generation away from coal and increasingly rely on natural gas and renewable sources such as solar and wind.

As a result, carbon emissions from coal-burning power plants have been dropping across the United States, with levels falling by 13 percent nationwide between 2011 and 2013, according to government data.

Those emissions remain far higher in a handful of states compared to the rest of the country, both when viewed in terms of total emissions and when adjusted for each state’s population.

Texas, one of the most populous states, led with 153 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions in the 2013 data, which was the latest available. New data is expected in October.

Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Pennsylvania followed with about 90 million metric tons each, while Kentucky had about 83 million metric tons. Each state’s emissions have fallen since 2011 along with the national trend.

On a per capita basis, the nation’s top coal producing states are among the highest emitters of carbon dioxide from energy production.

Wyoming, a sparsely populated state that leads the U.S. in coal production, had the highest per capita emissions at a level several times the national median. West Virginia and Kentucky, the second and third highest coal producers, also emit carbon at a level about twice the median level.

Opposition anticipated

The plan is expected to face opposition as power companies and the Republican-led Congress raise questions about the cost of reforms and effect on consumers.

Obama on Monday pushed back at critics who say limiting carbon emissions in U.S. power plants would hurt the economy, saying American households will ultimately save $85 a year on their electric bills by 2030.

“[Special interests and allies in Congress] will claim this plan will kill jobs, even though our transition to a cleaner energy economy has the solar industry, to name just one example, creating jobs 10ten times faster than the rest of the economy,” Obama said.

Legal challenges to the regulations are expected from as many as 25 states, and the cases are likely to end up before the U.S. Supreme Court.

“It will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans,” Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a presidential hopeful, told wealthy donors Sunday at a gathering in California hosted by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch.

Rubio, the junior senator from Florida, also said the new regulations would "do nothing to address the underlying issue that they're talking about. Because as far as I can see, China and India and other developing countries are going to continue to burn anything they can get their hands on.

FILE - А plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire.

FILE - А plume of steam billows from the coal-fired Merrimack Station in Bow, New Hampshire.

Future generations

Obama pushed back at that assertion Monday, noting that U.S. leadership on fighting climate change paved the way for China last year to pledge to cut its own carbon emissions.

In a video posted early Sunday on the White House Facebook page, the president said climate change, is “not a problem for another generation.”

“It’s changing in ways that threaten our economy, our security and our health,” Obama said. “This isn’t opinion, it’s fact backed up by decades of carefully collected data and overwhelming scientific consensus. And it has serious implications for the way that we live now.”

The president recounted an experience jogging in Los Angeles in the late 1970s and not being able to breathe due to smog. Obama says smog, acid rain, and other climate-related problems were solved despite pushback at the time, noting such criticisms are “excuses for inaction.”

Obama wrapped his White House remarks with a reference to the "Blue Marble" photo of Earth recently released by NASA, saying it's up to everyone to protect it, noting “we are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, we’re the last generation that can do something about it.”

The president added he doesn’t want his grandchildren not to be able to swim in Hawaii or not to be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because the current generation refused to act.

"We only get one home. We only get one planet," Obama said. "There is no Plan B."

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