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article imagePres. Obama announces executive orders to curb greenhouse gases

By Jordan Howell     Jun 25, 2013 in Politics
Washington - President Obama outlined sweeping measures on Tuesday designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from U.S. power plants and help local communities better prepare for devastating storms, fires, and drought.
In a move that could help define his legacy and further aggravate his relationship with Republicans, Mr. Obama said he would use the power of the Presidency, including issuing executive orders, to address the threats posed by global climate change.
The centerpiece of the plan is a proposal to negotiate new carbon emission limits for the nation’s 6,600 power plants.
“This plan begins with cutting carbon pollution by changing the way we use energy—using less dirty energy, using more clean energy, wasting less energy throughout our economy,” said Mr. Obama in his speech at Georgetown University.
The proposal to limit carbon emissions is only one component of the three-part Climate Action Plan that, while no panacea to climate change, suggests practical solutions that could be implemented by the end of Mr. Obama’s second term.
First, the proposal aims to cut carbon pollution in the U.S. by developing new industry standards for both new and existing power plants and making available $8 billion in loan guarantees to fund innovation in energy efficiency while reducing carbon pollution by 3 billion metric tons by 2030. It also provides new incentives for renewable energy projects, including a directive to the Department of the Interior to permit more renewable energy on public lands.
The second part of the plan outlines a series of steps that may help the nation prepare for further devastation brought about or exacerbated by rising global temperatures. These include investments in programs and construction projects that will shield communities from destructive weather, making environmental research available to farmers to help them maintain yields during droughts, and the restoration of forests to make them less susceptible to catastrophic fires.
Lastly, the plan also calls on the U.S. to lead international efforts to fight global climate change, including developing partnerships with other major emitters like China and India, as well as ending public financing support for all but the most efficient coal-fired power plants across the globe.
Given the current state of hyper-partisan politics that have gripped Washington throughout much of his presidency, Mr. Obama designed the proposals to be legally enforceable through executive orders because any Congressional action on climate change will be unattainable so long as Republicans hold the House of Representatives.
Mr. Obama also cited the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970 as a milestone in U.S. environmental protection, harkening back to a time when such issues were widely supported across the political spectrum.
“The reasoning behind the [Clean Air Act of 1970] was simple. New technology can protect our health by protecting the air we breathe from harmful pollution, and that law passed the Senate unanimously,” said Mr. Obama.
“It was signed into law by a Republican President. It was later strengthened by another Republican President. This used to be a bipartisan issue.”
Mr. Obama is not required to seek Congressional approval for the new initiatives. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in Massachusetts v. EPA that greenhouse gases falls under the jurisdiction of the Clean Air Act, leaving any regulation under the control of the Executive Branch.
“I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat earth society,” he said. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people and as a society and as a country on where we go from here.”
While intended to fulfill a 2008 campaign promise to address global climate change, the new proposals drew a cautious response from some environmental groups.
"We're happy to see the president finally addressing climate change but the plain truth is that what he's proposing isn't big enough, and doesn't move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis," said Bill Snape, senior counsel to the Center for Biological Diversity.
Noticeably absent from the three-part plan were any concrete recommendations concerning contentious issues like hydraulic fracturing, the Keystone XL Pipeline, and Arctic drilling.
In a sign of how much the politics of environmental protection have changed from the passage of the Clean Air Act of 1970, the opposition was lambasting the proposals as anti-business and anti-coal before Mr. Obama delivered the speech.
“These policies, rejected even by the last Democratic-controlled Congress, will shutter power plants, destroy good-paying American jobs and raise electricity bills for families that can scarcely afford it,” House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement released prior to Obama’s speech.
“The regulations the president wants to force on coal are not feasible. And if it’s not feasible, it’s not reasonable,” said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who famously shot the cap-and-trade bill in an political advertisement during the 2010 special election. “It’s clear now that the president has declared a war on coal. It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology.”
Despite accusations that the new plan will destroy jobs, some American companies welcomed the announcement.
In a statement released after the announcement, DuPont Corp. vice president and chief sustainability officer Linda Fisher said, “We believe that U.S. leadership in this area is important. Absent Congressional action, we think that prudent and cost-effective steps can be taken administratively in the U.S., and welcome the President’s announcement on actions the Administration will take. In particular, we think the President’s planned activities in the areas of efficiency, renewable energy and HFCs are constructive, and we applaud his leadership.”
Ultimately, the President’s speech was light-hearted despite the fierce opposition his proposals are certain to meet. Obama framed the initiative as an opportunity to harness future technology and preserve the health of the nation.
Read the full plan here.
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