Business, Economics and Jobs

Obama outlines climate change plan in major speech

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama gave what the White House had billed as a major speech on an issue that was largely overshadowed during his first term: climate change.

Speaking at Georgetown University, the president laid out a plan that would take steps to cut carbon pollution, reduce global carbon emissions and transition to clean energy sources.

Obama called climate change a "bipartisan issue."

"As a president, as a father, and as an American, I am here to say, we need to act," Obama said to applause from the outdoor crowd of invitees. 

"We don't have to choose between the health of our children and the health of our economy." 

Obama highlighted the increasing heat and rising sea levels documented in the last decade, linking them to natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.

"Those who are feeling the effects of climate change don't have time to deny it," Obama said. "They're already dealing with it." 

A key initiative that Obama is set to sign is a Presidential memorandum that directs the Environmental Protection Agency to establish carbon pollution levels for power plants, both new and existing, as authorized by the Clean Air Act of 1970 — which he reminded the crowd was passed unanimously by the Senate.

"That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop," Obama said, referring to power plants being allowed to emit "limitless" amounts of carbon.

While the EPA's standards could be a big deal, forcing utilities companies to favor newer, cleaner plants over coal plants, Time wrote that it will take the EPA at least a year to prepare regulations.

During his speech Tuesday, Obama also recalled his 2008 pledge to lower greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent, saying that America now produces more of its own gas and oil "than ever before." He pledged to double America's solar and wind power by 2020.

Obama's climate action plan also sets a goal for the federal government to obtain 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources in the next decade. The plan also includes a budget for building infrastructure that can withstand more potent natural disasters. 

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Obama went on the offensive against his detractors, saying that the claims that his new environmental standards will hurt the American economy are "tired excuses" which "suggest a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity." 

"This does not mean we're going to suddenly stop producing fossil fuels, and transitioning to clean energy takes time," Obama said. "What is true, is that we can't drill our way out of the energy and climate change issues we face."

Obama discussed the controversial Keystone XL pipeline — which would carry oil from Canada to the US Gulf — saying that he would support it only if it doesn't increase emissions.

A recent Pew Research poll found that 66 percent of Americans are in favor of the pipeline.

Canada's natural resources minister immediately countered, telling reporters in Toronto that Keystone won't add to climate change.

Joe Oliver said he believes there wouldn't be a net increase in carbon emissions if TransCanada Corp builds the pipeline from Alberta's oil sands to Texas.

"On a net basis, we don't see any increase in emissions as a result of the construction of the pipeline," Oliver said, according to Reuters.

About 20 percent of the oil in Keystone would be lighter grades produced outside the oil sands, Oliver said, which uses less carbon to produce.

Keystone also received support south of the border on Tuesday, with a highly anticipated study saying heavy oil from the tar sands isn't any more dangerous than lighter, sweeter crude.

Critics are trying to suggest Keystone would be more likely to leak transporting heavy oil, but that's not true, Reuters reported.

"I think it's harder to come up with reasons not to approve it than to approve it," Sarah Emerson, director at Energy Security Analysis Inc in Boston, told Reuters. "Most people in the industry expect it to be a foregone conclusion."

Obama held up natural gas as the "transition fuel" that could power the US economy through to cleaner energy solutions, adding that countries like China and Germany are going "all in" on the race to clean energy.

"I believe we can win that race, but we can't win it if we aren't in it," said Obama.

Mentioning his recent agreement with China to reduce carbon efforts, Obama said that he would work to craft global legislation to reduce carbon emissions worldwide. 

"No nation alone can solve this problem," Obama said. "This plan calls on America to the world's biggest economy and second-biggest carbon emitter." 

"I'm willing to work with anyone to combat this for our kids," the president said. "I am open to all ideas from all sides. ...I don't have much patience for anyone that denies that this challenge is real." 

"We won't have a clear moment of victory," the president cautioned, concluding his speech on an emotional note. "...We will have the satisfaction that the world we leave to our children will be better off for what we did."  

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