US President Barack Obama launched a major second-term drive to combat climate change, bypassing the US Congress as he seeks to set a cornerstone of his legacy.
Temperatures are rising, sea level is climbing, the Arctic ice is melting and the world is doing far too little to stop it, he warned on Tuesday in a speech at Georgetown University — taking off his jacket and wiping his face for visual effect as he spoke outdoors with temperatures on their way to more than 32oC.
“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing,” he said, unveiling his most sweeping plan yet to tackle pollution and global warming by using the executive powers of his office.
His announcement follows years of inaction by Congress on the issue and his plan would not need lawmakers’ approval.
At the core of Obama’s plan are the first-ever federal controls on new and existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide — a heat-trapping gas blamed for global warming. The program will also boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.
Obama called for the US to be a global leader in the search for solutions.
However, his campaign faces extensive obstacles, including the likelihood that the limits on power plants will be challenged in court.
“There will be legal challenges. No question about that,” former US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator Christie Whitman said. “It’s a program that’s largely executive. He doesn’t need Congress. What that does, of course, is make them madder.”
Obama also offered a rare insight into his deliberations on whether to approve the hotly debated Keystone XL oil pipeline, deeming it in US interests only if it does not worsen carbon pollution. The pipeline would carry carbon-intensive oil from Canadian tar sands to Texas Gulf Coast refineries.
The US president also mocked those who deny that humans are contributing to the warming of the planet.
“We don’t have time for a meeting of the flat-Earth society,” Obama said.
Four months after a newly re-elected Obama issued lawmakers an ultimatum in his State of the Union speech — “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will” — impatient environmental activists reveled in Tuesday’s news.
“This is the change we have been waiting for,” said Michael Brune, who runs the Sierra Club, an environmental group. “Today, President Obama has shown he is keeping his word to future generations.”
Republicans called Obama’s plan a continuation of his “war on coal” and “war on jobs.”
The US’ National Association of Manufacturers said the proposals would drive up costs.
Obama said the same arguments have been used in the past when the US has taken other steps to protect the environment.
“That’s what they said every time, and every time they’ve been wrong,” he said.
Announcing he will allow more renewable energy projects on public land, Obama set a goal to power the equivalent of 6 million homes by 2020 from sources such as wind and solar, effectively doubling the country’s capacity.