U.S. President Barack Obama plans to personally unveil proposed carbon-emissions rules for power plants, elevating climate change policy as a top tier issue for his final two years in office, according to two people familiar with White House strategy.
Obama is preparing to make the announcement with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, who said this week the rules are on track to be proposed by June 2, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the schedule is still being planned.
After relegating climate change to the back burner during his first term, Obama would be taking an unusual step of announcing regulatory proposals before they are finalized by the federal government and years before they would be implemented. His direct engagement is intended to demonstrate to environmental advocates and business interests that he’s committed to stricter emissions standards.
“There’s no question that President Obama views this as a legacy issue and he wants to be very directly involved,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a non-profit advocacy group in Washington. “It sends the signal that this is going to remain a high profile issue for probably the rest of the president’s term.”
An Obama administration official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss scheduling, said they expect the president will do an event sometime around the release of the rule but that no plans or dates have been finalized.
McCarthy said on May 13 that her agency is on course to put forward new regulations for existing power plants to limit carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act by June 2. That would meet the deadline Obama set a year ago in an executive memorandum directing the EPA to propose the standards.
“We are going to show you that you can get significant reductions from the energy sector in a way that’s going to continue to provide reliable and cost-effective electricity, that is going to be continuing our quest to address the issue of climate change and that recognizes that we’re all in this together,” McCarthy said May 13 during a speech to the Association of Climate Change Officers Climate Strategies Forum in Washington.
Obama has been laying the groundwork for a more aggressive stance on climate change in his second term. Late last year, he brought in John Podesta, who was chief of staff to former President Bill Clinton and an ally of environmental advocates, to oversee his climate agenda.
This month he conducted television interviews at the White House and members of his administration gave presentations to introduce a National Climate Assessment. The report, released May 6, concluded that global warming is already having an impact on the U.S. with flooding, drought and storms and will affect broad sections of the U.S. economy.
“The public knows this is a problem,” Obama told Al Roker during an interview on NBC’s “Today” show that was broadcast May 7. “We’ve got to have the public understand this is an issue that is going to impact our kids and our grandkids, unless we do something about it.”
Republicans such as Senators John Barrasso of Wyoming and Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma have accused the administration of using the climate report to support new regulations they say would eliminate jobs.
The administration also has come under criticism from the coal industry. The climate assessment said that coal is responsible for most of the world’s carbon emissions since the Industrial Revolution.
Power companies including American Electric Power Co. and Southern Co. and coal producers such as Peabody Energy Corp. are bracing for the EPA rules to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is among environmental groups pushing the EPA to impose strict limits on greenhouse-gas emissions from the plants. Just after Obama was re-elected, the NRDC issued the most detailed proposal for how the EPA could use regulations under the Clean Air Act to limit emissions from the plants.
In 2012, nations including the biggest emitters of carbon pollution -- the U.S. and China -- agreed to negotiate a new climate change treaty by 2015 that would limit fossil-fuel emissions starting in 2020. The accord would succeed the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, which set pollution-reduction targets for more than 30 developed countries. The United Nations is aiming to have an accord ready by the time of a summit in Paris next year.