The linchpin of Obama's plan involves 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 would be the first public confirmation that Obama plans to extend carbon controls to existing plants.
"The country is facing a threat; the president is facing facts," said Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council, praising Obama for taking aim at power plants. "Reducing that pollution is the most important step we can take as a nation to stand up to climate change."
A spokesman for major power companies said the industry long has understood the importance of addressing climate change and has been working to reduce greenhouse gas emissions for two decades. The industry will consider whether new climate change policies and regulations "mesh" with its ongoing transition to a cleaner generating fleet and an enhanced electric grid, said Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, a group that represents power companies.
Even before Obama spoke, reaction from Republicans was swift and dismissive, reflecting the opposition to climate legislation on Capitol Hill that prompted a frustrated Obama to sidestep lawmakers and take action himself. On both sides of the Capitol, Republicans claimed the plan would increase electricity prices and threaten the fragile economic recovery.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he would be raising his concerns with Obama in an unrelated Oval Office meeting later Tuesday.
"It's tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today's economy," McConnell said on the floor of the Senate.