Obama Barrels Ahead: Climate Plan Won't 'Pause for Partisan Gridlock'

Under the plan, Obama is directing the EPA to work closely with states, industry and other stakeholders to develop carbon pollution standards for both new and existing power plants by June 2014. The new rules would take effect sometime in 2015. The president set a goal of reducing the nation’s total carbon dioxide output by at least three billion metric tons by 2030.

The president also seeks to make further investment in clean and renewable energies, doubling energy captured from the wind and sun. The Department of the Interior has been directed to allow wind, solar and similar projects to operate on public lands, issuing enough permits to power more than 6 million homes by 2020.

The package expresses the need to “couple action at home with leadership internationally. America must help forge a truly global solution to this global challenge by galvanizing international action to significantly reduce emissions, prepare for climate impacts, and drive progress through the international negotiations.”

As a result, the U.S. will stop financing new coal-fired plants overseas “except for the most efficient coal technology available in the world's poorest countries or facilities deploying carbon capture and sequestration technologies.” The White House also committed to expanding international initiatives with China, India and other countries to reduce greenhouse gases.

In seeking to reduce emissions, Obama cited studies that show the levels of carbon pollution in the atmosphere have increased dramatically and that the 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. In 2012, temperatures in some ocean regions reached record highs and Arctic ice shrank to its smallest size on record -- faster than most models predicted, he said. Ocean levels are rising – the sea level in New York Harbor is a foot higher than it was a century ago.

The National Climatic Data Center maintains that 2011 and 2012 had some of the most extreme weather events — including major droughts, heat waves, storms tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, and wildfires — in the nation’s history, resulting in $60 billion in damages.

“I am convinced this is the fight America can, and will, lead in the 21st century,” Obama said. “And I’m convinced this is a fight that America must lead.  But it will require all of us to do our part. We’ll need scientists to design new fuels, and we’ll need farmers to grow new fuels. We’ll need engineers to devise new technologies, and we’ll need businesses to make and sell those technologies. We’ll need workers to operate assembly lines that hum with high-tech, zero-carbon components, but we’ll also need builders to hammer into place the foundations for a new clean energy era.”

On the Keystone pipeline, a proposed project that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf of Mexico, Obama said he will only approve construction if it’s in the national interest.

“And our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution,” he said. “The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward. It’s relevant.”

Paul C. “Chip” Knappenberger, assistant director of the Center for the Study of Science at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said the president’s position may ultimately prove beneficial to pipeline construction.

If the Keystone XL pipeline were to operate at full capacity until the end of this century, Knappenberger said, “it would, worst case, raise the global average surface temperature by about 1/100th of a degree Celsius. So after nearly 100 years of full operation, the Keystone XL’s impact on the climate would be inconsequential and unmeasurable.”