As part of a planned comprehensive climate change strategy, President Obama will announce an effort in July to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, targeting power plants, one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gases. This will be one aspect of a larger agenda that will focus on three broad environmental areas over which the Obama administration has rule-making powers. The other efforts will be improving the energy efficiency of appliances and expanding clean energy development.
Curbing carbon emissions will be a major step in the battle against global warming, one that follows a successful mercury emission reduction plan (the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency in January 2012. Those safeguards are expected to prevent 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks per year. The upcoming preventative measures, meanwhile, will go several steps further, and are expected to become a powerful tool in not only improving health, but significantly slashing greenhouse gas emissions - perhaps by 40 percent or more in the long term.
Obama's plan, of course, is bound to be strongly criticized by Republicans, and may even need to face legal challenges by the GOP and fossil fuel industries. The administration's initiative would be taken with executive power; it would not need legislative action or financing by Congress, according to Heather Zichal, White House coordinator for energy and climate change.
Such plans were part of Obama's climate change talk in a June 19 speech in Berlin, Germany. He explained that the nation and the world have a moral imperative to take action to fight global warming. "The grim alternative affects all nations; more severe storms, more famine and floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish, oceans that rise," he said. "This is the global threat of our time. We have to get to work."
Zichal added that climate change is a "second term priority" for the president, who "knows this is a legacy issue. 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 will be vastly more costly. But the EPA has been working very hard on rules that focus specifically on greenhouse gases from the coal sector. They're doing a lot of important work in that space."
She remarked that leaders in Washington need to start listening to the public on this issue, and, moreover, to "catch up" with public opinion on climate change. "Most Americans have stopped debating whether the planet is warming, and are busy trying to protect their communities from its impact."
The EPA was given the authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in a 2007 Supreme Court decision, and therefore, in this instance, does not need to contend with Republicans' obnoxious habit of fighting environmental legislation tooth and nail.
"We are encouraged to find that there are tools available to do this without Congress," said Nicholas Bianco, who authored a World Resources Institute report on greenhouse gas output and its potential reduction. "The other encouraging sign is that the administration appears to be ready to tackle climate in this second term."
Carbon output increased by 1.4 percent in 2012, reaching an all-time high of 31.6 gigatonnes. Such emissions have caused droughts and heat waves, exacerbated tropical cyclones and changed storm patterns, harmed agriculture production, and caused sea levels to rise.
Al Gore recently said that climate change was a highly important issue in which the president certainly ought to work around the roadblocks put up by Congress; this plan is expected to be one of the first big examples of that. "It is important for him to regulate carbon dioxide emissions," Gore said. "He doesn't need Congress to do [this]. If it hurts the feelings of people in the carbon polluting industries, that's too bad. Just because the opponents of doing anything on global warming are trying to intimidate people into not even considering it, that is no reason for the rest of us to conclude that this is impossible. We have to win the conversation and change the law and put [limitations] on carbon."
"The effort to slow climate change requires bold action," Obama continued. "Peace with justice means refusing to condemn our children to a harsher, less hospitable planet."
Photo: Alexander F. Yuan/AP