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 (see the Video).
"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."
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In a conference call with the press, Gina McCarthy, administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said the plan would cost a total of $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% of U.S. electricity in 2012, compared to 30% from natural gas, 19% from nuclear power plants, 7% from hydropower sources such as dams and 5% from renewable sources such as wind and solar, according to the U.S. 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.