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Obama To Unveil Comprehensive Climate Change Plan

  • Heather Maher

U.S. President Barack Obama

U.S. President Barack Obama

WASHINGTON -- U.S. President Barack Obama will announce a comprehensive plan to address the cause and effects of climate change in a major speech.

At a briefing ahead of his scheduled speech on June 25, senior administration officials said Obama will issue a Presidential Memorandum ordering multiple government agencies to take action on a number of fronts.

They include new reductions in carbon emissions and an increase in fuel-efficiency standards for heavy vehicles and buildings.

The agencies will be directed to work with farmers, local officials, and hospitals across the country to prepare for more severe droughts, forest fires, and storms thought to be a result of climate change.

One senior official said Obama feels an urgency to act on behalf of "future generations."

The president made the threat of climate change a centerpiece of his State of the Union speech following his 2012 reelection and vowed to take action before leaving office in 2017.

White House officials said he decided to act on his own because Congress has failed to pass comprehensive legislation on the matter. But they stressed that the directives in the Presidential Memorandum "rely on existing authority."

The most controversial directive is likely to be an order to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop new limits for carbon emissions at both existing and new coal-fired power plants. Until now, the administration has rebuffed calls from environmental groups to regulate existing plants, choosing to focus its efforts on newly-constructed plants.

'Aggressive Conversations'

Administration officials said Obama will urge EPA officials to have "aggressive conversations" and "robust engagement with states, labor leaders, industry, [nongovernmental organizations], and other stakeholders at the front end" of the process to develop the new limits.

"We believe firmly that those conversations will allow us to develop a rule that provides common sense rules of the road and has industry support," one official said. "Today we already set limits for arsenic, mercury, and lead, but let power plants release as much carbon as they want."

Under the memorandum, the Transportation Department would work with the auto industry to increase fuel-efficiency standards for trucks and buses. The Agriculture Department would be tasked with helping farmers and ranchers avoid the catastrophic effect on food prices brought on by droughts and floods, and the Housing and Urban Development Department would be directed to ensure that new taxpayer-funded structures are strong enough to sustain the damaging winds and ocean surges of "super storms."

Weather disasters cost the United States $110 billion in 2012, according to the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration – the second costliest year on record since 1980, when amounts were first tracked. Only 2005 – the year of Hurricane Katrina -- cost more.

Obama’s plan will also make up to $8 billion available in loan guarantees for the development and deployment of new forms of clean and renewable energy. Officials said the use of solar, geothermal, and wind power has doubled since Obama took office in 2009.

Internationally, he plans to lead an effort to lower trade barriers for goods produced with clean energy and to call for an end to U.S. financing of most coal-fired power plants overseas.