The Obama administration unveiled a major climate change plan on Sunday aimed at a large reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's coal-burning power plants. On Monday, President Barack Obama started selling it to the public at a White House event.
"Today after working with states and cities and power companies, the EPA is setting the first ever nationwide standards to end the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from power plants," Obama said Monday from the White House, adding shortly thereafter "Washington is starting to catch up with the vision of the rest of the country. "
The "Clean Power Plan" is the final version of regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency, which President Barack Obama called "the biggest most important step we've ever taken to combat climate change," in a video released by the White House on social media Saturday night.
"We're the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it," Obama said on Monday.
Under the plan, the administration will require states to meet specific carbon emission reduction standards, based on their individual energy consumption. The plan also includes an incentive program for states to get a head start on meeting standards on early deployment of renewable energy and low-income energy efficiency.
"Power plants are the single biggest source of harmful carbon pollution that contributes to climate change," Obama said in the video. "Until now, there have been no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution plants dump in the air."
Even before the rule was announced, many states announced plans to fight it, including some vows to take the administration to court over the new rules. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell urged states not to comply with the plan in a letter to all 50 governors.
Critics also said that the plan will bring unwelcome increases in electricity prices.
"This plan is all pain and no gain," said Luke Popovich, vice president of communications for the National Mining Association. "That's why state leaders across the country are coming to the same conclusion — that we should not sacrifice our power system to an unworkable plan built on a faulty interpretation of the law."
In a conference call with the press, Gina McCarthy, administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency, said the plan would cost a total of US$8.4 billion with total benefits expected to be $34 billion to $54 billion.
"Some special interest critics will tell you that it can't be done," McCarthy said on Sunday. "They'll say we have to focus on the economy at the expense of the environment. They'll tell you EPA's plan will turn the lights off and send utility bills through the roof but they are wrong."
A multi-million dollar campaign backed by the energy industry has sought to debunk the science of climate change, but polls show most Americans believe the planet is warming.
Coal supplied 37 percent of US electricity in 2012, compared to 30 percent from natural gas, 19 percent from nuclear power plants, 7 percent from hydropower sources such as dams and 5 percent from renewable sources such as wind and solar, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
EPA officials have conceded in the past that some of the dirtiest power plants now operating, such as older coal-fired plants, will end up shuttered as the nation shifts its reliance from traditional fossil fuel sources to cleaner alternatives.
"There are few issues more important to the president," a senior administration official said, adding that Obama is likely to make the case that climate change is a moral, economic and national security obligation in the months ahead.
The news of the President's plan was hailed on Sunday by Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Martin O'Malley but was deeply criticized by Republican candidates.
"It will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans," Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, said Sunday at the Freedom Partners Summit in California.
"If there's some billionaire somewhere who is a pro-environmental, cap-and-trade person, yeah, they can probably afford for their electric bill to go up a couple of hundred dollars," Rubio said. "But if you're a single mom in Tampa, Florida, and your electric bill goes up by $30 a month, that is catastrophic."
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, also running for president, said on Sunday climate change "will not be solved by grabbing power from states or slowly hollowing out our economy."
"The real challenge is how do we grow and prosper in order to foster more game-changing innovations and give us the resources we need to solve problems like this one," he said.
Expecting a tough fight, the White House will launch an "all-out climate push" by the President and cabinet officials to fan out to sell the plan. In the coming weeks, Obama will travel to Nevada to speak at the National Clean Energy Summit and later become the first sitting President to go to the Alaskan Arctic.