Barack Obama to put limits on power plants in climate effort

President Barack Obamais preparing regulations limiting carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, senior officials said Wednesday. The move would be the most consequential climate policy step he could take and one sure to provoke legal challenges from Republicans and some industries.

Electric power plants are the largest single source of global warming pollution in the country, responsible for nearly 40 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions. With sweeping climate legislation effectively dead in Congress, the decision on existing power plants – which a 2007 Supreme Court decision gave to the executive branch – has been among the most closely watched of Obama’s second term.

The administration has already begun steps to restrict climate-altering emissions from any newly built power plants, but imposing carbon standards on the existing utility fleet would be vastly more costly and contentious.

The president is preparing to move soon, because rules as complex as those applying to power plants can take years to complete. Experts say that, if Obama hopes to have a new set of greenhouse gas standards for utilities in place before he leaves office, he needs to begin before the end of this year.

Heather Zichal, the White House coordinator for energy and climate change, said Wednesday that the president would announce climate policy initiatives in coming weeks. Another official said a presidential address outlining the new policy, which will also include new initiatives on renewable power and energy efficiency, could come as early as next week.

Zichal said none of the initiatives being considered by the administration required legislative action or new financing from Congress.

In a speech in Berlin on Wednesday, Obama echoed his assertive talk on climate policy since his re-election, talk that some climate advocates have criticized as going beyond his actions. He said the United States and the world had a moral imperative to take “bold action” to slow the warming of the planet.

“The grim alternative affects all nations – more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise,” Obama said. “This is the global threat of our time.”

He added, “We have to get to work.”

Republicans criticize Obama’s climate policy as government overreach that is holding back the economy. Some Democrats, including those hawkish about climate action, also worry that tough new standards on power plants could slow job growth and raise energy costs, particularly in places like the industrial Midwest that depend on cheap power from coal.

But administration officials signaled that Obama had decided that the risks from climate change outweighed the potential economic and political costs from taking steps to address it.

“He is serious about making it a second-term priority,” Zichal said at a forum Wednesday in Washington sponsored by The New Republic magazine. “He knows this is a legacy issue.”

 

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