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Obama on climate change: Act now, before it’s too late

Republican critics already calling president’s plan a job-killer

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Charles Dharapak / AP

President Barack Obama removes his jacket before speaking about climate change, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at Georgetown University in Washington. The president is proposing sweeping steps to limit heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants and to boost renewable energy production on federal property, resorting to his executive powers to tackle climate change and sidestepping the partisan gridlock in Congress.

Updated Tuesday, June 25, 2013 | 12:33 p.m.

Obama Climate Change

President Barack Obama wipes his face as he speaks about climate change, Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at Georgetown University in Washington. The president is proposing sweeping steps to limit heat-trapping pollution from coal-fired power plants and to boost renewable energy production on federal property, resorting to his executive powers to tackle climate change and sidestepping the partisan gridlock in Congress. Launch slideshow »

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama declared the debate over climate change and its causes obsolete Tuesday as he announced a wide-ranging plan to tackle pollution and prepare communities for global warming.

In a major speech at Georgetown University, Obama warned Americans of the deep and disastrous effects of climate change, urging them to take action before it's too late.

"As a president, as a father and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act," Obama said.

Obama announced he was directing his administration to launch the first-ever federal regulations on heat-trapping gases emitted by new and existing power plants — "to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution."

Other aspects of the plan will boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

Even before Obama unveiled his plan Tuesday, Republican critics in Congress were lambasting it as a job-killer that would threaten the economic recovery. Obama dismissed those critics, noting the same arguments have been used in the past when the U.S. has taken other steps to protect the environment.

"That's what they said every time," Obama said. "And every time, they've been wrong."

Obama touted America's strengths — research, technology and innovation — as factors that make the U.S. uniquely poised to take on the challenges of global warming. He mocked those who deny that humans are contributing to the warming of the planet, adding that he "doesn't have much patience" for anybody who refuses to acknowledge the problem.

"We don't have time for a meeting of the flat-earth society," Obama said.

Obama also offered a rare insight into his administration's deliberations on Keystone XL, an oil pipeline whose potential approval has sparked an intense fight between environmental activists and energy producers.

The White House has insisted the State Department is making the decision independently, but Obama said Tuesday he's instructing the department to approve it only if the project won't increase overall, net emissions of greenhouse gases.

"Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation's interests," Obama said. "Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

Obama's far-reaching plan marks Obama's most prominent effort yet to deliver on a major priority he laid out in his first presidential campaign and recommitted to at the start of his second term: to fight climate change in the U.S. and abroad and prepare American communities for its effects. Environmental activists have been irked that Obama's high-minded goals never materialized into a comprehensive plan.

But the proposals will face stiff opposition from some members of Congress, and the controls on power plants are likely to be challenged in court. Even if political and legal challenges are overcome, the proposals will take years to implement. And by using executive action instead of seeking legislative fixes, Obama will be hard-pressed to provide the federal funding that community leaders and environmental activists say are needed to prepare states and towns for climate change.

By expanding permitting on public lands, Obama hopes to generate enough electricity from renewable energy projects such as wind and solar to power the equivalent of 6 million homes by 2020, effectively doubling the electric capacity federal lands now produce. He also set a goal to install 100 megawatts of energy-producing capacity at federal housing projects by the end of the decade.

Obama also announced $8 billion in federal loan guarantees to spur investment in technologies that can keep carbon dioxide produced by power plants from being released into the atmosphere.

But the linchpin of Obama's plan is the controls on new and existing power plants. Forty percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, and one-third of greenhouse gases overall, come from electric power plants, according to the federal Energy Information Administration. The Obama administration already has proposed controls on new plants, but those controls have been delayed and not yet finalized.

Tuesday's announcement came just weeks after Obama's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, Gina McCarthy, assured senators during her confirmation process that the EPA was "not currently" developing any regulations on existing sources of greenhouse gases. McCarthy said if EPA were to look at such regulations, it would allow states, the public and others to "offer meaningful input on potential approaches."

Republicans quickly dismissed Obama's plan, calling it a "war on coal" and a "war on jobs," reflecting the opposition to climate legislation on Capitol Hill that prompted a frustrated Obama to sidestep lawmakers and take action himself.

"It's tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today's economy," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the floor of the Senate.

Environmental groups offered a mix of praise and wariness that Obama would follow through on the ambitious goals he laid out. Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity described it as too little, too late.

"What he's proposing isn't big enough, doesn't move fast enough, to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis," Snape said.

Others hailed the plan, galvanized by the fact that Obama was taking action on his own after the reluctance in Congress to tackle the issue using legislation.

"The president nailed it: this can't wait," said Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "We will cut this carbon pollution today so our children don't inherit climate chaos tomorrow."

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  1. I think Rusty is referring to the blue line here:

    http://bit.ly/vvzhC3

    A shame he can't seem to comprehend the red one.

  2. Rusty, do you have data to dispute what was posted? I'm eager to see your data and invite you to post or reference data which disproves the graph I posted.

    Or... do you lack a scientific basis for your opinion and are instead relying upon an ad hominem attack to reinforce an uninformed opinion?

  3. Rusty,

    First, it's HadCRUT4. I would think since your entire case rests upon the conclusions of a single dataset, you would at least be able to correctly format its name. Second, HadCRUT4 reinforces the general warming trend. Plot the data, as you requested in your first comment, and you'll see that.

    Here's a pretty graph for you to see:

    https://secure.flickr.com/photos/kellyca...

    Of course, that goes back further than 1998. If you think you've made a point by using a statistical outlier as the starting point, understand your motives are entirely transparent. It seems your understanding of your own sources is rather shallow, as you've ultimately provided data which corroborates the science you wish to discredit.

    Perhaps I wasn't clear? I was asking for data which disproves the graph I posted.

  4. The Man Who Hates America speaks again and as usual, is so wrong. No law, executive order or tax will stop global warming. Except for nuclear holocaust, which could happen the way this moron is running things.

  5. The willful ignorance of the right on climate change...

    It's reminds me of many things in recorded history that have faced denial in the face of all empirical evidence to the contrary...some folks are just woe to admit that their long-held, but factually inccrrect premises have been proved WRONG...all the way back to 'the Earth is FLAT!'

    The notion that 'this climate change/Goreball Warming nonsense and all of it's associated ministrations towards correction are BUNK! It's made up JUNK! Regulations and laws innacted will just stifle the economy & kill jobs' is corporate-speak for 'IT'LL EAT INTO OUR PROFIT-TAKING!'

    "I don't beleive it! Science is a scam! Al Gore made it all up to 'get rich!' has been drummed into the right-wing herd hard & heavy by the potent PROPAGANDA MACHINE of Corporatte America & Wall St. investers because MAKING MONEY, and making mo' money RIGHT NOW is infinately more important to them than saving the planet.

    'I'd ruther my future kin can have a hefty bank account than be able to breathe, eat & not be subjected to all manner of life-threatening illnesses caused by man-made pollution & By God, I will fight with every fiber of my being to make it so!'
    Let's get crackin' & frackin'!

  6. Rusty,

    Plotting the data from HadCRUT4 shows a clear rise in temperature over the past 30 years, as I've shown. You've been unable to argue the validity of either graph I posted yesterday. Why is that?

    I'm still intrigued why you arbitrarily choose 1998 for your temperature model. Why not 1999? Or 1979? I think it's because you know, and everyone knows, that you cherry-picked one extraordinarily hot year, 1998, to undermine commonly accepted findings.

    Of course, that's disingenuous. And, of course, that's why you're clinging to it. If you expanded your data set, the rise in temperature is undeniable, as HadCRUT4 proved. HadCRUT4 shows a noticeable increase in temperatures since the late 90's. Again, your cited data undermines your own point.

    Once again, for good measure:

    http://bit.ly/vvzhC3

  7. Rusty,

    Again you commit an ad hominem attack and your criticism of the data isn't supported by any data, let alone the sole source you have cited.

    I've asked you several times to dismantle that graph, and even though you continue to claim it is wrong, you've provided no factual basis for your criticism. You don't like the individual who runs a website. That's great, but that doesn't disprove the data behind that graph.

    http://bit.ly/vvzhC3

    The single challenge you did mount actually shows a progression in temperature over time, contrary to your own assertion. The HadCRUD4 data does not show a plateau for the past 30 years. Far from it.

    Your entire basis for your assertion is a cherry-picked year that, for several reasons (El Nino being greatest) was an outlier, again as proven by the graph I posted. When your entire argument is based on an outlier, it collapses, and you're left in your current position, unable to defend your assertions and drowning in facts. Actual skeptics would challenge themselves and their sources and look at the totality of data, not an arbitrarily limited set.

    The fact is that global temperatures have increased since 1979. That fact is supported by all available data, even HadCRUD4.

    https://secure.flickr.com/photos/kellyca...

    I suppose this "debate" is over if you can't come up with data which disproves what I've posted.

  8. So you've proven my point, Rusty.

    First, an ad hominem attack on the source of data you cannot disprove, and later acknowledge is true. You have sought to attack the data provided by undermining the source as being just a "cartoonist/web programmer."

    That's irrelevant to the validity of the data, Rusty, yet you continue to stress it. It's clearly a logical fallacy.

    Second, an appeal to authority, yet another logical fallacy. "Analysis" involves opinion. Facts are found in data, and the data supports rising temperatures. Your source is a Doctor of Climate Science? That's irrelevant to the validity of the data, Rusty and irrelevant to the extent of global temperatures.

    I'd advise it's more important to judge the validity of what is said than who is saying it.

    Unfortunately, it's clear you won't take that advice.