Obama to lay out three-part plan for addressing climate change

Steam rises from cooling towers at the Jaenschwalde coal-burning power plant near Cottbus, Germany in this August 20, 2010 file photo.
Sean Gallup

With little to no hope on Capitol Hill for action on climate change, President Obama on Tuesday plans to bypass Congress and move forward with executive actions designed to reduce carbon emissions.

In a speech at Georgetown University, the president will lay out what the administration is billing as a comprehensive plan built on three pillars: cutting the nation's carbon pollution, leading global efforts to reduce carbon emissions and preparing the United States for the impacts of climate change. As part of that effort, Mr. Obama on Tuesday will sign a presidential memorandum directing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to start engaging with states, the private sector and other stakeholders to set carbon pollution standards for both new and existing carbon power plants.

The president, a senior administration official said, has "made it very clear his preference would be for Congress to act." At this point, however, he is ready to rely on the existing authorities in the executive branch.

Mr. Obama has taken some steps so far to address climate change, such as enacting stricter vehicle-fuel-efficiency standards in 2011 and offering subsidies to support green-energy industries like solar and wind power. There have been some markers of progress: Senior administration officials on Monday pointed out that carbon pollution from the energy sector last year fell to the lowest level in two decades.

At the same time, U.S. scientists last month reported that the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is higher than it has been at any other time in the last several million years. The 12 hottest years on record have all come in the last 15 years, while severe floods, heat waves and droughts have threatened communities and driven up food prices.

"Climate change is no longer a distant threat," a senior administration official said. "We're already feeling its impacts across the country and around the world."

By engaging with the private sector in setting new pollution standards for existing carbon power plants, an administration official said, the EPA will be able to develop a standard "that provides common sense rules of the road [and] has industry support," as well as help the United States transition to a clean energy economy.