The president who once said his time in office would be remembered as the time when the “planet began to heal” is not going to be on hand for the announcement of his administration’s most significant step toward accomplishing that goal.
President Barack Obama will give way Monday to Environmental Protection Agency administrator Gina McCarthy, who will announce at the Rose Garden a sweeping plan to combat climate change.
It’s perhaps the last, most significant move the Obama administration will take on climate change before the president finishes his second term. The proposal promises to be controversial, and it has the potential to shake up close electoral races around the country.
The new regulations, which were first reported on by The Wall Street Journal Sunday night, aim to force power plants to cut their emissions by as much 30% from 2005 levels by 2030. The EPA estimates the rule will cost approximately $US5.5 billion in 2020, vs. net climate and health “benefits” of $US26 billion to $US45 billion to the economy.
The rule is less ambitious than some proposals Obama tried to get through Congress during his first term — and what he promised during his first campaign for president. But it is still an aggressive legal move that promises challenges in court. It also aims to be politically palatable for red-state Democrats whose states depend on coal for jobs.
It has the potential to be politically toxic for Democrats in red states. It figures to be a prominent topic in the Kentucky Senate race, where Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes is attempting to oust Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. He has promised to introduce legislation in the Senate blocking the rules from taking effect.
“The EPA and the Obama administration are taking an historic step to protect our children and future generations from climate change impacts,” said Carol Browner, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress.
The new rule will be an important change because carbon pollution from power plants accounted for 33% of the U.S.’s total greenhouse gas emissions in 2011, according to the EPA. The U.S.’s carbon emissions have already fallen by about 10% since 2005, due in part both to the recession and the natural-gas boom, so the goal is already one-third of the way toward completion.
But the U.S. Energy Information Administration said carbon emissions on the rise again last year, and the president’s projections have them continuing to increase:
The rule likely won’t take effect until Obama is almost set to leave office. Until then, controversy over the law will undoubtedly dominate headlines. There will be a year of public comment before completion, according to the WSJ. And then states will have to each submit plans for reduction to the EPA, which will allow for flexibility.
States in along the coasts that don’t rely heavily on coal, for example, won’t have to reduce their emissions as much as states in the nation’s heartland. But the national average will aim to bring down carbon emissions by 30% by 2030.
The rule will be a cornerstone toward accomplishing Obama’s 2009 pledge during international climate talks of reducing U.S. carbon emissions 17% from 2005 levels by 2020.
Obama, who is leaving for a high-profile trip to Europe later Monday evening, made his only public comments on the announcement during his weekly address on Saturday.
“Every time America has set clear rules and better standards for our air, our water, and our children’s health — the warnings of the cynics have been wrong,” he said.
“They warned that doing something about the smog choking our cities, and acid rain poisoning our lakes, would kill business. It didn’t. Our air got cleaner, acid rain was cut dramatically, and our economy kept growing.”
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