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State of the Union: Obama to crack down on emissions

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Climate Progress

The Wall Street Journal reports the President will continue his push on climate action in his State Of The Union address next week.

The GOP-dominated House in particular is against passing any policies to curb greenhouse gas emissions. But even without Congress’s cooperation, the Executive Branch has a wide array of regulatory tools at its disposal to tackle the problem, particularly the Clean Air Act.

The President surprised almost everyone by devoting so much of his second inaugural address to climate, framing the issue in moral terms, “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations.” This raised expectations for the SOTU address.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports:

President Barack Obama in next week’s State of the Union speech will lay out a renewed effort to combat climate change that is expected to include using his authority to curb emissions from existing power plants, people who have talked to the administration about its plans said.

The Environmental Protection Agency has already proposed rules, set to be finalized this spring, to limit carbon pollution emitted from new power plants to 1,000 pounds of CO2 per megawatt hour of electricity. This would make the construction of new coal-fired power plants effectively impossible.

Mr. Obama is likely to signal he wants to move beyond proposed Environmental Protection Agency rules on emissions from new power plants and tackle existing coal-fired plants, people familiar with the administration’s plans said….

“You will ultimately see a proposal from EPA to regulate existing power plants,” one person familiar with the matter said. “How he talks about it in the State of the Union could be anything from, ‘We’ve taken important steps and we need to take more,’ to ‘We need to make more [progress] and the next one on the chopping block is existing sources’” of carbon emissions.

No final decisions about what the president will propose next Tuesday appear to have been made.

President Obama has already committed to reducing carbon emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020, and the Energy Information Administration recently concluded we’re already at 9 percent below today. But further aggressive steps will be needed to prevent losing those gains and to close the rest of the gap.

In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled the EPA would be required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act if it found that those emissions endangered public health and the environment. The agency came to that exact conclusion in 2009 — indeed, they did so in 2008 under President Bush, but he blocked making the endangerment finding.

EPA scientists noted that the climate change associated with carbon emissions will, for instance, increase the dangers posed by extreme weather, such as drought and floods, will worsen air pollution, and will boost the frequency, intensity, and duration of heat waves, with all the attendant threats to the health and welfare of Americans.

That in turn led to the EPA’s proposal to regulate carbon pollution from new power plants, and during the comment period for the proposal the agency received more than 3 million comments in favor of reducing carbon pollution from both new and existing power plants — a record for an EPA rule proposal. But up until now, the EPA hasn’t moved to reduce emissions from power plants already in operation.

Other steps the Executive Branch could take unilaterally to protect the environment and public health include adopting the “Tier 3″ standard the EPA is working on to further reduce smog, using public lands and waters to promote clean energy projects, establishing more stringent renewable energy standards for utilities, and nixing the Keystone XL pipeline.

According to a former administration official who spoke with the Wall Street Journal, the President has been “pushing the team to get very specific about how to achieve the goals he set on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions.” Obama will deliver the State of the Union speech next Tuesday, February 12.

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