Obama Prepares Full-Court Press On Climate Change

The White House strengthens its landmark power-plant rules, starting a major push on climate

U.S. President Barack Obama speaks at the Ernest F. Coe Visitor Center during a visit to the Everglades National Park on April 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. The President visited the park on Earth Day where he spoke about the threat that climate change poses to our economy and to the world. (National Journal)

The Obama administration is preparing a full-court press on climate change with the final release of the landmark rule that will limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

The White House will finalize a rule that puts the first-ever limits on carbon emissions from power plants, the largest source of pollution that contributes to global warming. The rule goes beyond what was proposed last year, requiring that the power sector cut 32 percent of carbon emissions based on 2005 levels by 2030, up from a 30 percent target in the proposal.

In a video released by the White House, President Obama said the rules were "the biggest, most important step we've ever taken to combat climate change."

"Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore," he said.

The rule will be officially rolled out Monday, the first in a series of events by Obama and other administration officials to highlight climate change. In his second term, Obama has focused on climate change as a legacy issue.

The president is set to make several speeches over the coming weeks about the threat of global warming, including delivering the keynote address at Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid's National Clean Energy Summit in Nevada on Aug. 24. Obama will also travel to the Alaskan Arctic at the end of the month, the first president to do so.

Vice President Joe Biden and other Cabinet members will also use Congress' August recess to hammer home the climate message, the White House said.

The public push on climate change will lead up to landmark United Nations talks in Paris at the end of the year, where Obama has said he will try to leverage U.S. action to get world leaders to reach a worldwide deal on climate change.

The support campaign is sure to be matched by a torrent of criticism from the fossil-fuel industry and congressional Republicans, who see the climate rule as a death knell for coal and a federal overreach. Already more than a dozen states, along with utilities and coal companies, have sued the administration to stop the rule. Republicans are working on several steps to try to kill the rule, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has even been encouraging governors to simply opt out of compliance.

The power-plant rule is the tentpole of Obama's second-term climate agenda, which has included regulations on cars, trucks, airplanes, agriculture, and natural gas projects. The rule is expected to completely overhaul the power sector, not just limiting emissions but boosting the development of renewable energy while stemming the creation of new coal plants.

Under the rule, states are given individual targets for cleaning up the power sector, but have flexibility on the steps they can take to get there. States are given more time to develop and implement their plans under the rule, addressing a major concern from the initial proposal.

The rule also tries to spur more renewable energy, rather than leaning on natural gas, which burns about 50 percent more cleanly than coal but still releases harmful emissions. The rule creates a new program that gives states credit for kick-starting construction on wind and solar projects or by promoting energy efficiency.

Rather than an increase projected under the proposed rule, the White House said that the share of natural gas in the power sector will now remain flat by 2030.

All told, the White House said that by 2020, emissions from the power sector would be at least 27 percent below 2005 levels, in line with the proposed rule, but would drive deeper reductions past 2030.