President Obama: “No challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate”

From the White House:

In the East Room of the White House, President Obama announces the Clean Power Plan — our biggest step yet in the fight against climate change. The plan is a landmark action to protect public health, reduce energy bills for households and businesses, create American jobs, and bring clean power to communities across the country. August 3, 2015.

UPDATED WITH transcript (full text below the fold)

From ThinkProgress:

The Environmental Protection Agency released its long-awaited final rule to regulate carbon pollution from existing power plants on Monday afternoon. This is the most significant action any American president has ever taken to rein in climate change.

Addressing a crowd of scientists in the East Room of the White House, President Obama ticked through a list of threats that confronted the world since he took office: economic calamity, terrorism, nuclear weapons.

“But I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate,” he said. “I believe there is such a thing as being too late. That shouldn’t make us hopeless. It’s not as if there’s nothing we can do about it. We can take action.”

Existing power plants will no longer be able to pollute unlimited amounts of carbon dioxide into the air in the United States once the plan takes effect, which will be 60 days following the as-yet determined date the plan is published in the Federal Register.

… each state will be able to come up with its own plan to cut emissions in a way that works for them. By 2030, each state must meet a certain emissions reduction target, custom-tailored to their current energy mix. The EPA does not implement a top-down solution across the country to cut emissions, or force specific coal plants to close.

“We’ll reward states that take actions sooner, rather than later, because time is not on our side,” Obama said.

Fact Sheet: President Obama to Announce Historic Carbon Pollution Standards for Power Plants

The Clean Power Plan is a Landmark Action to Protect Public Health, Reduce Energy Bills for Households and Businesses, Create American Jobs, and Bring
Clean Power to Communities across the Country

Today at the White House, President Obama and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Gina McCarthy will release the final Clean Power Plan, a historic step in the Obama Administration’s fight against climate change.

We have a moral obligation to leave our children a planet that’s not polluted or damaged. The effects of climate change are already being felt across the nation. In the past three decades, the percentage of Americans with asthma has more than doubled, and climate change is putting those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. Extreme weather events – from more severe droughts and wildfires in the West to record heat waves – and sea level rise are hitting communities across the country. In fact, 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the first 15 years of this century and last year was the warmest year ever. The most vulnerable among us – including children, older adults, people with heart or lung disease, and people living in poverty – are most at risk from the impacts of climate change. Taking action now is critical.

The Clean Power Plan establishes the first-ever national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants. We already set limits that protect public health by reducing soot and other toxic emissions, but until now, existing power plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States, could release as much carbon pollution as they wanted.

The final Clean Power Plan sets flexible and achievable standards to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, 9 percent more ambitious than the proposal. By setting carbon pollution reduction goals for power plants and enabling states to develop tailored implementation plans to meet those goals, the Clean Power Plan is a strong, flexible framework that will:

Provide significant public health benefits – The Clean Power Plan, and other policies put in place to drive a cleaner energy sector, will reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions by nearly 90 percent in 2030 compared to 2005 and decrease the pollutants that contribute to the soot and smog and can lead to more asthma attacks in kids by more than 70 percent. The Clean Power Plan will also avoid up to 3,600 premature deaths, lead to 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and prevent 300,000 missed work and school days.
– Create tens of thousands of jobs while ensuring grid reliability;
– Drive more aggressive investment in clean energy technologies than the proposed rule, resulting in 30 percent more renewable energy generation in 2030 and continuing to lower the costs of renewable energy.
– Save the average American family nearly $85 on their annual energy bill in 2030, reducing enough energy to power 30 million homes, and save consumers a total of $155 billion from 2020-2030;
– Give a head start to wind and solar deployment and prioritize the deployment of energy efficiency improvements in low-income communities that need it most early in the program through a Clean Energy Incentive Program; and
– Continue American leadership on climate change by keeping us on track to meet the economy-wide emissions targets we have set, including the goal of reducing emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and to 26-28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy explains:

More details at the link.

UPDATED: Transcript of the president’s remarks:

East Room

2:15 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you, everybody. (Applause.) Thank you so much. Everybody, please have a seat. Thank you.

Well, good afternoon, everybody.

AUDIENCE: Good afternoon.

THE PRESIDENT: Gina, I want to thank you not just for the introduction, but for the incredible work that you and your team have been doing — not just on this issue, but on generally making sure that we’ve got clean air, clean water, a great future for our kids.

I want to thank all the members of Congress who are here, as well, who have been fighting this issue, and sometimes at great odds with others, but are willing to take on what is going to be one of the key challenges of our lifetimes and future generations. I want to thank our Surgeon General, who’s just been doing outstanding work and is helping to make the connection between this critical issue and the health of our families.

Over the past six and a half years, we’ve taken on some of the toughest challenges of our time — from rebuilding our economy after a devastating recession, to ending our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing almost all of our troops home, to strengthening our security through tough and principled diplomacy. But I am convinced that no challenge poses a greater threat to our future and future generations than a changing climate. And that’s what brings us here today.

Now, not everyone here is a scientist — (laughter) — but some of you are among the best scientists in the world. And what you and your colleagues have been showing us for years now is that human activities are changing the climate in dangerous ways. Levels of carbon dioxide, which heats up our atmosphere, are higher than they’ve been in 800,000 years; 2014 was the planet’s warmest year on record. And we’ve been setting a lot of records in terms of warmest years over the last decade. One year doesn’t make a trend, but 14 of the 15 warmest years on record have fallen within the first 15 years of this century.

Climate change is no longer just about the future that we’re predicting for our children or our grandchildren; it’s about the reality that we’re living with every day, right now.

The Pentagon says that climate change poses immediate risks to our national security. While we can’t say any single weather event is entirely caused by climate change, we’ve seen stronger storms, deeper droughts, longer wildfire seasons. Charleston and Miami now flood at high tide. Shrinking ice caps forced National Geographic to make the biggest change in its atlas since the Soviet Union broke apart.

Over the past three decades, nationwide asthma rates have more than doubled, and climate change puts those Americans at greater risk of landing in the hospital. As one of America’s governors has said, “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

And that’s why I committed the United States to leading the world on this challenge, because I believe there is such a thing as being too late.

Most of the issues that I deal with — and I deal with some tough issues that cross my desk — by definition, I don’t deal with issues if they’re easy to solve because somebody else has already solved them. And some of them are grim. Some of them are heartbreaking. Some of them are hard. Some of them are frustrating. But most of the time, the issues we deal with are ones that are temporally bound and we can anticipate things getting better if we just kind of plug away at it, even incrementally. But this is one of those rare issues — because of its magnitude, because of its scope — that if we don’t get it right we may not be able to reverse, and we may not be able to adapt sufficiently. There is such a thing as being too late when it comes to climate change. (Applause.)

Now, that shouldn’t make us hopeless; it’s not as if there’s nothing we can do about it. We can take action. Over the past several years, America has been working to use less dirty energy, more clean energy, waste less energy throughout our economy. We’ve set new fuel economy standards that mean our cars will go twice as far on a gallon of gas by the middle of the next decade. Combined with lower gas prices, these standards are on pace to save drivers an average of $700 at the pump this year. We doubled down on our investment in renewable energy. We’re generating three times as much wind power, 20 times as much solar power as we did in 2008.

These steps are making a difference. Over the past decade, even as our economy has continued to grow, the United States has cut our total carbon pollution more than any other nation on Earth. (Applause.) That’s the good news. But I am here to say that if we want to protect our economy and our security and our children’s health, we’re going to have to do more. The science tells us we have to do more.

This has been our focus these past six years. And it’s particularly going to be our focus this month. In Nevada, later in August, I’ll talk about the extraordinary progress we’ve made in generating clean energy — and the jobs that come with it — and how we can boost that even further. I’ll also be the first American President to visit the Alaskan Arctic, where our fellow Americans have already seen their communities devastated by melting ice and rising oceans, the impact on marine life. We’re going to talk about what the world needs to do together to prevent the worst impacts of climate change before it’s too late.

And today, we’re here to announce America’s Clean Power Plan — a plan two years in the making, and the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change. (Applause.)

Right now, our power plants are the source of about a third of America’s carbon pollution. That’s more pollution than our cars, our airplanes and our homes generate combined. That pollution contributes to climate change, which degrades the air our kids breathe. But there have never been federal limits on the amount of carbon that power plants can dump into the air. Think about that. We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water — and we’re better off for it. But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air.

For the sake of our kids and the health and safety of all Americans, that has to change. For the sake of the planet, that has to change.

So, two years ago, I directed Gina and the Environmental Protection Agency to take on this challenge. And 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. (Applause.)

Here’s how it works. Over the next few years, each state will have the change to put together its own plan for reducing emissions — because every state has a different energy mix. Some generate more of their power from renewables; some from natural gas, or nuclear, or coal. And this plan reflects the fact that not everybody is starting in the same place. So we’re giving states the time and the flexibility they need to cut pollution in a way that works for them.

And we’ll reward the states that take action sooner instead of later — because time is not on our side here. As states work to meet their targets, they can build on the progress that our communities and businesses are already making.

A lot of power companies have already begun modernizing their plants, reducing their emissions — and by the way, creating new jobs in the process. Nearly a dozen states have already set up their own market-based programs to reduce carbon pollution. About half of our states have set energy efficiency targets. More than 35 have set renewable energy targets. Over 1,000 mayors have signed an agreement to cut carbon pollution in their cities. And last week, 13 of our biggest companies, including UPS and Walmart and GM, made bold, new commitments to cut their emissions and deploy more clean energy.

So the idea of setting standards and cutting carbon pollution is not new. It’s not radical. What is new is that, starting today, Washington is starting to catch up with the vison of the rest of the country. And by setting these standards, we can actually speed up our transition to a cleaner, safer future.

With this Clean Power Plan, by 2030, carbon pollution from our power plants will be 32 percent lower than it was a decade ago. And the nerdier way to say that is that we’ll be keeping 870 million tons of carbon dioxide pollution out of our atmosphere. (Applause.) The simpler, layman’s way of saying that is it’s like cutting every ounce of emission due to electricity from 108 million American homes. Or it’s the equivalent of taking 166 million cars off the road.

By 2030, we will reduce premature deaths from power plant emissions by nearly 90 percent — and thanks to this plan, there will be 90,000 fewer asthma attacks among our children each year. (Applause.) And by combining this with greater investment in our booming clean energy sector, and smarter investments in energy efficiency, and by working with the world to achieve a climate agreement by the end of this year, we can do more to slow, and maybe even eventually stop, the carbon pollution that’s doing so much harm to our climate.

So this is the right thing to do. I want to thank, again, Gina and her team for doing it the right way. Over the longest engagement process in EPA history, they fielded more than 4 million public comments; they worked with states, they worked with power companies, and environmental groups, and faith groups, and people across our country to make sure that what we were doing was realistic and achievable, but still ambitious.

And some of those people are with us here today. So, Tanya Brown — Tanya, wave, go ahead — there’s Tanya. (Applause.) Tanya Brown has joined up with moms across America to spread the word about the dangers climate change pose to the health of our children — including Tanya’s daughter, Sanaa. There’s Sanaa, right there.

Dr. Sumita Khatri has spent her career researching the health impacts of pollution at the Cleveland Clinic, and helping families whose lives are impacted every single day. Doctor, thank you. (Applause.)

Sister Joan Marie Steadman has helped rally Catholic women across America to take on climate. Sister, thank you so much for your leadership. (Applause.) And she’s got a pretty important guy on her side — as Pope Francis made clear in his encyclical this summer, taking a stand against climate change is a moral obligation. And Sister Steadman is living up to that obligation every single day.

Now, let’s be clear. There will be critics of what we’re trying to do. There will be cynics that say it cannot be done. Long before the details of this Clean Power Plan were even decided, the special interests and their allies in Congress were already mobilizing to oppose it with everything they’ve got. They will claim that this plan will cost you money — even though this plan, the analysis shows, will ultimately save the average American nearly $85 a year on their energy bills.

They’ll claim we need to slash our investments in clean energy, it’s a waste of money — even though they’re happy to spend billions of dollars a year in subsidizing oil companies. They’ll claim this plan will kill jobs — even though our transition to a cleaner energy economy has the solar industry, to just name one example, creating jobs 10 times faster than the rest of the economy.

They’ll claim this plan is a “war on coal,” to scare up votes — even as they ignore my plan to actually invest in revitalizing coal country, and supporting health care and retirement for coal miners and their families, and retraining those workers for better-paying jobs and healthier jobs. Communities across America have been losing coal jobs for decades. I want to work with Congress to help them, not to use them as a political football. Partisan press releases aren’t going to help those families.

Even more cynical, we’ve got critics of this plan who are actually claiming that this will harm minority and low-income communities — even though climate change hurts those Americans the most, who are the most vulnerable. Today, an African-American child is more than twice as likely to be hospitalized from asthma; a Latino child is 40 percent more likely to die from asthma. So if you care about low-income, minority communities, start protecting the air that they breathe, and stop trying to rob them of their health care. (Applause.) You could also expand Medicaid in your states, by the way. (Laughter.)

Here’s the thing. We’ve heard these same stale arguments before. Every time America has made progress, it’s been despite these kind of claims. Whenever America has set clear rules and smarter standards for our air, our water, our children’s health, we get the same scary stories about killing jobs and businesses and freedom. It’s true.

I’m going to go off script here just for a second. (Laughter.) Because this is important — because sometimes I think we feel as if there’s nothing we can do. Tomorrow is my birthday, so I’m starting to reflect on age. And in thinking about what we were doing here today, I was reminded about landing in Los Angeles to attend a college as a freshman, as an 18-year-old. And it was late August. I was moving from Hawaii. And I got to the campus, and I decided — I had a lot of pent-up energy and I wanted to go take a run. And after about five minutes, suddenly I had this weird feeling, I couldn’t breathe. And the reason was, back in 1979, Los Angeles still was so full of smog that there were days where people who were vulnerable just could not go outside. And they were fairly frequent.

And folks who are older than me can remember the Cayuga River burning because of pollution, and acid rain threatening to destroy all the great forests of the Northeast. And you fast-forward 30, 40 years later, and we solved those problems. But at the time, the same characters who are going to be criticizing this plan were saying, this is going to kill jobs, this is going to destroy businesses, this is going to hurt low-income people, it’s going to be wildly expensive. And each time, they were wrong.

And because we pushed through, despite those scaremongering tactics, you can actually run in Los Angeles without choking. And folks can actually take a boat out on that river. And those forests are there.

So we got to learn lessons. We got to know our history. The kinds of criticisms that you’re going to hear are simply excuses for inaction. They’re not even good business sense. They underestimate American business and American ingenuity.

In 1970, when Republican President Richard Nixon decided to do something about the smog that was choking our cities, they warned that the new pollution standards would decimate the auto industry. It didn’t happen. Catalytic converters worked. Taking the lead out of gasoline worked. Our air got cleaner.

In 1990, when Republican President George H.W. Bush decided to do something about acid rain, they said the bills would go up, our lights would go off, businesses would suffer “a quiet death.” It didn’t happen. We cut acid rain dramatically, and it cost much less than anybody expected — because businesses, once incentivized, were able to figure it out.

When we restricted leaded fuel in our cars, cancer-causing chemicals in plastics, it didn’t end the oil industry, it didn’t end the plastics industry; American chemists came up with better substitutes. The fuel standards we put in place a couple of years ago didn’t cripple automakers. The American auto industry retooled. Today, our automakers are selling the best cars in the world at a faster pace than they have in almost a decade. They’ve got more hybrids, and more plug-ins, and more high fuel-efficient cars, giving consumers more choice than ever before, and saving families at the pump.

We can figure this stuff out as long as we’re not lazy about it; as long as we don’t take the path of least resistance. Scientists, citizens, workers, entrepreneurs — together as Americans, we disrupt those stale, old debates, upend old ways of thinking. Right now, we’re inventing whole new technologies, whole new industries — not looking backwards, we’re looking forwards.

And if we don’t do it, nobody will. The only reason that China is now looking at getting serious about its emissions is because they saw that we were going to do it, too. When the world faces its toughest challenges, America leads the way forward. That’s what this plan is about. (Applause.)

Now, I don’t want to fool you here. This is going to be hard; dealing with climate change in its entirety, it’s challenging. No single action, no single country will change the warming of the planet on its own. But today, with America leading the way, countries representing 70 percent of the carbon pollution from the world’s energy sector have announced plans to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. In December, with America leading the way, we have a chance to put in place one of the most ambitious international climate agreements in human history.

And it’s easy to be cynical and to say climate change is the kind of challenge that’s just too big for humanity to solve. I am absolutely convinced that’s wrong. We can solve this thing. But we have to get going. It’s exactly the kind of challenge that’s big enough to remind us that we’re all in this together.

Last month, for the first time since 1972, NASA released a “blue marble,” a single snapshot of the Earth taken from outer space. And so much has changed in the decades between that first picture and the second. Borders have shifted, generations have come and gone, our global population has nearly doubled. But one thing hasn’t changed — our planet is as beautiful as ever. It still looks blue. And it’s as vast, but also as fragile, as miraculous as anything in this universe.

This “blue marble” belongs to all of us. It belongs to these kids who are here. There are more than 7 billion people alive today; no matter what country they’re from, no matter what language they speak, every one of them can look at this image and say, “That’s my home.” And “we’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change; we’re the last generation that can do something about it.” We only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no plan B.

I don’t want my grandkids not to be able to swim in Hawaii, or not to be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn’t do something about it. I don’t want millions of people’s lives disrupted and this world more dangerous because we didn’t do something about it. That would be shameful of us. This is our moment to get this right and leave something better for our kids. Let’s make most of that opportunity.

Thank you, everybody. God bless you. (Applause.) God bless the United States of America.

2:47 P.M. EDT



  1. President Obama, speaking at the White House:

    “I don’t want to fool you, this will be hard,” the president said in his Monday speech. “We’re the first generation to feel the impact of climate change, we’re the last generation that can do something about it. We only get one home. We only get one planet. There’s no Plan B.”

    As the speech concluded, Obama got emotional, his voice softening. “I don’t want my grandkids not to be able to swim in Hawaii or not to be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn’t do something about it. I don’t want millions of people’s lives disrupted and this world more dangerous because we didn’t so something about it. That’d be shameful of us.”

    “This is our moment to get this right and leave something better for our kids,” he said. “Let’s make the most of this opportunity.”

  2. NY Times again! Joe Romm: Worse Media Response to EPA Clean Power Plan

    The most important benefits of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan do not involve either President Obama or his “legacy” …

    The Clean Power Plan is primarily about public health and preserving a livable climate by reducing carbon pollution from the dirtiest coal plants. It is directly aimed at improving the health of tens of thousands of Americans — and enabling a global treaty that might ultimately save most of the country from turning into a near-permanent Dust Bowl.

    At one time, the New York Times was considered the pinnacle of “serious” journalism, the “paper of record.” But consider their Politico-style analysis of Obama’s Clean Power Plan to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants — a plan that he was legally obligated to put forward, a plan that is objectively the bare minimum the United States can do in the global fight to prevent catastrophic climate change from ruining the lives of billions of people for decades and centuries to come.

    The Times’ front-page headline in its big Sunday story with leaked details of the plan is “Obama to Unveil Tougher Environmental Plan With His Legacy in Mind.” That is the print headline, the web headline, and the URL — so apparently the editors were in complete agreement from the start that this dreadful headline captures the most important news about why the President unveiled this plan.

    Joe points out the absurdity of the “President Obama refuses to compromise” claim:

    It’s all about politics and legacy, according to the Times panjandrums … and those famous unnamed “advisers.” The Times further asserts (baselessly): “But over all, the final rule is even stronger than earlier drafts and can be seen as an effort by Mr. Obama to stake out an uncompromising position on the issue during his final months in office.”

    “Uncompromising?” Really? The Times is aware that Team Obama tried the legislative route in its first term: “Mr. Obama tried but failed to push through a cap-and-trade bill in his first term….” I guess Obama failed to “push through” that bill — if that phrase means “making concession after concession to get any Republicans to actually vote for it.”

    He goes on to laud the final AP story on the Clean Power Plan (the first draft also had the focus on politics):

    AP appears to have replaced [the original article] with a vastly superior piece, “Obama heralds impact of power plant greenhouse gas limits,” which makes the key moral point that the most newsworthy beneficiaries are humanity: “Calling it a moral obligation, President Barack Obama unveiled the final version of his plan to dramatically cut emissions from U.S. power plants, as he warned anew that climate change will threaten future generations if left unchecked.”

  3. Commentary and analysis:

    Vox: Obama releases his most ambitious climate policy yet — the Clean Power Plan

    On Monday afternoon, President Obama released the final version of his most ambitious climate policy to date — an EPA program to cut carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants. The final version of the Clean Power Plan turns out to be slightly stronger than the draft proposal released last summer.

    So how big a deal is this rule, anyway? You can look at it in a few different ways. Optimistically, the program has the potential to transform the US electricity industry, pushing utilities in every state to take cleaner energy much more seriously. The administration is also hoping this new rule will give a much-needed jolt to global climate talks, spurring other countries to respond with further actions.

  4. Commentary and analysis

    TNR: The Last Defining Court Battle of Obama’s Presidency

    The coal industry has readied its legal attack since at least 2012, when Obama proposed carbon regulations for new power plants. These premature lawsuits—which were all dismissed—provided a good rundown of the main points the opposition will make: One argument is that the EPA cannot use Section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act as its legal grounds for regulation, because its authority to regulate mercury pollution from the same plants comes from a different provision. Another will be that the EPA lacks authority to mandate renewable energy in the power mix, because it is a measure that takes place beyond the fence line of a power plant. Critics will even challenge the constitutionality of the Clean Air Act and the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gasses.

    EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy told reporters that the final rule’s changes “remains within the four corners of the Clean Air Act. It is a, legally, very strong rule.” New York University law professor Richard Revesz, who’s filed legal briefs on behalf of the EPA, told me that he “doesn’t see new vulnerabilities” in the final Clean Power Plan, and the administration has only “strengthened the legal grounding.”

  5. Opponents, definitely not grassroots. Media Disclosure Guide: Here Are The Industry-Funded Groups Attacking The EPA’s Climate Plan:

    With the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set to finalize the Clean Power Plan, dozens of fossil fuel-funded organizations are poised to revive their attacks on this landmark climate change policy, which will place the first-ever limits on carbon pollution from power plants. Here’s a comprehensive guide that reporters can use to properly disclose these organizations’ industry ties, many of which were recently documented in an Energy & Policy Institute report detailing the fossil fuel industry’s “artificial chorus of voices” against clean energy:

    60 Plus Association
    Energy & Environment Legal Institute
    American Encore
    Heartland Institute
    American Legislative Exchange Council
    Heritage Foundation
    Americans For Prosperity
    Independent Women’s Forum
    Americans For Tax Reform
    Institute for Energy Research
    Beacon Hill Institute
    Libre Initiative
    Cato Institute
    National Black Chamber of Commerce
    Charles Steele Jr. Partnership for Affordable Clean Energy
    Citizens’ Alliance for Responsible Energy
    State Policy Network
    Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow
    Taxpayers Protection Alliance
    Competitive Enterprise Institute
    U.S. Chamber of Commerce
    Consumer Energy Alliance

    Each group, and their contribution towards slowing down progress, is described in more detail at the link

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