Seeking to jump-start the stalled national debate over climate change, President Obama said Tuesday that because Congress has failed to act, he has a moral obligation to take matters into his own hands in an effort to curb production of greenhouse gases.
Mr. Obama said he will direct the Environmental Protection Agency to draft rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from new and existing power plants and that the Keystone XL pipeline will not be approved if it is shown to “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
The address marked the president’s boldest stand on climate change since lawmakers on Capitol Hill killed his “cap-and-trade” proposal in 2010. Mr. Obama made it clear that he is not waiting this time for Congress to tackle climate change.
“The question is not whether we need to act. The overwhelming judgment of science, of chemistry and physics and millions of measurements has put all that to rest,” Mr. Obama said. “So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late.”
Even as he was threatening to bypass Congress, the president asked lawmakers to confirm Gina McCarthy, whom he tapped to lead the EPA. Senate Republicans said Mr. Obama’s speech made confirmation less likely.
Mr. Obama’s own team also may have hurt his cause when Daniel P. Schrag, a White House adviser on climate change, told The New York Times that the president should use his address to wage “a war on coal.”
That comment left Democrats ducking and Republicans howling on Capitol Hill.
“Declaring a ‘war on coal’ is tantamount to declaring a war on jobs,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “It’s tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today’s economy.”
Even some Democrats knocked the president’s plan, warning that it would have “disastrous consequences” for the coal industry and the communities that depend on its jobs.
“It’s clear now that the president has declared a war on coal,” said Sen. Joe Manchin III, West Virginia Democrat. “It’s simply unacceptable that one of the key elements of his climate change proposal places regulations on coal that are completely impossible to meet with existing technology.”
Faced with those roadblocks, as well as a Republican-controlled House with little appetite for the president’s policies, Mr. Obama stressed that he will pursue the areas where he can act alone.
Speaking at Georgetown University, Mr. Obama said that his plan would aim to curb greenhouse gas emissions and prepare the nation to better deal with storms that will result from rising temperatures. Mr. Obama also said the United States should lead the world in a “coordinated assault on a changing climate.”
The centerpiece of his plan tasks the EPA with working with states, private industry and other stakeholders to come up with the first limits on carbon dioxide emissions from the nation’s power plants.
“There are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air, none, zero,” Mr. Obama said. “We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air or our water, but power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That’s not right, that’s not safe and it needs to stop.”
Turning to the proposed 1,200-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to the Midwest and Gulf Coast, Mr. Obama said the nation’s “interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”
“The net effects of the pipeline’s impact on our climate will be absolutely critical to determining whether this project is allowed to go forward,” he said.
Mr. Obama also vowed to open $8 billion in loan guarantees to support innovative fossil-fuel energy projects and said he would direct the Interior Department to permit more renewable-energy projects on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020. He also pledged to develop higher fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles and set a goal for the federal government to consume 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources within the next seven years.
“By the end of the next decade, these combined efficiency standards for appliances and federal buildings will reduce carbon pollution by at least 3 billion tons,” he said. “That’s an amount equal to what our entire energy sector emits in nearly half a year. So I know these standards don’t sound all that sexy. But think of it this way: That’s the equivalent of planting 7.6 billion trees and letting them grow for 10 years, all while doing the dishes.”