WASHINGTON, DC, June 25, 2013 (ENS) – “We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” declared President Barack Obama today at Georgetown University, taking aim at climate change deniers as he laid out his National Climate Action Plan. “As a President, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say we need to act.”
Often wiping perspiration from his face in the 90 degree heat of the nation’s capital, the President said, “… science, accumulated and reviewed over decades, tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind.”
“The 12 warmest years in recorded history have all come in the last 15 years. Last year, temperatures in some areas of the ocean reached record highs, and ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record – faster than most models had predicted it would,” said Obama. “These are facts.”
“Now, we know that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change,” said the President. “Droughts and fires and floods, they go back to ancient times. But we also know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected by a warming planet. The fact that sea level in New York, in New York Harbor, are now a foot higher than a century ago – that didn’t cause Hurricane Sandy, but it certainly contributed to the destruction that left large parts of our mightiest city dark and underwater.”
“The potential impacts go beyond rising sea levels,” he said. “Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history. Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week, a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures into the 90s.”
“So 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,” said Obama. “Ninety-seven percent of scientists, including, by the way, some who originally disputed the data, have now put that to rest. They’ve acknowledged the planet is warming and human activity is contributing to it.”
“So the question now is whether we will have the courage to act before it’s too late,” the President said. “And how we answer will have a profound impact on the world that we leave behind not just to you, but to your children and to your grandchildren.”
“I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that’s beyond fixing. And that’s why, today, I’m announcing a new national climate action plan, and I’m here to enlist your generation’s help in keeping the United States of America a leader – a global leader – in the fight against climate change.”
Before Obama explained the details of his plan to cope with the changing climate, he emphasized how precious and fragile the planet is. He recalled how as a seven-year-old child he was impressed by the first photograph of planet Earth taken from space on Christmas Eve, 1968 by the Apollo 8 astronaut William Anders.
“It was an image of Earth,” Obama said, “beautiful; breathtaking; a glowing marble of blue oceans, and green forests, and brown mountains brushed with white clouds, rising over the surface of the Moon.”
“And while the sight of our planet from space might seem routine today, imagine what it looked like to those of us seeing our home, our planet, for the first time. Imagine what it looked like to children like me,” he said. “Even the astronauts were amazed.”
To protect the planet, Obama said his plan “begins with cutting carbon pollution by changing the way we use energy – using less dirty energy, using more clean energy, wasting less energy throughout our economy.”
The plan covers enhancing appliance standards, developing heavy duty vehicle fuel economy standards and strengthening federal building efficiency, and limiting carbon emissions from electric generating facilities powered by fossil fuels such as coal and oil.
Today, about 40 percent of America’s carbon pollution comes from power plants, Obama said, but today there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can emit. “That’s not right, that’s not safe, and it needs to stop,” he said.
“So today, for the sake of our children, and the health and safety of all Americans, I’m directing the Environmental Protection Agency to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution from our power plants, and complete new pollution standards for both new and existing power plants,” the President said.
Within an hour of completing his speech, Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum to the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency directing that carbon emissions from power plants be regulated. The regulation of new power plants must be formally proposed by September 2013, while the regulation for existing power plants must be proposed by June 2014.
“A low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come. And I want America to build that engine. I want America to build that future – right here in the United States of America,” said Obama, expressing confidence that American businesses and American workers are equal to the task.
For the first time, the President indicated that he might deny the Alberta-based TransCanada corporation a Presidential Permit to build the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline across the Canada-U.S. border.
“Now, I know there’s been, for example, a lot of controversy surrounding the proposal to build a pipeline, the Keystone pipeline, that would carry oil from Canadian tar sands down to refineries in the Gulf. And the State Department is going through the final stages of evaluating the proposal. That’s how it’s always been done,” said Obama. But I do want to be clear: Allowing the Keystone pipeline to be built requires a finding that doing so would be in our nation’s interest. And our national 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,” the President said. “It’s relevant.”
Reaction to the President’s statement on Keystone XL was swift and wide-ranging.
Senator Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, said, “The President’s commitment today to only approve the tar sands pipeline if there is no net increase in carbon pollution is promising, but tar sands are one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet and the devil is in the details. We also need a price on carbon pollution,” she said.
American Petroleum Institute President and CEO Jack Gerard urged President Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline immediately, saying today, “Unless the president changes the goal post, his questions about the Keystone XL pipeline have been answered by four comprehensive State Department reviews that have concluded the project will have no significant impact on the environment.”
“If the President wants to know whether the Keystone XL pipeline is good for the country all he has to do is listen to the American people,” said Gerard. “More than 70 percent of voters believe it would strengthen America’s national security and benefit our military.”
Obama said he would take action internationally to curb global warming. “My administration will redouble our efforts to engage our international partners in reaching a new global agreement to reduce carbon pollution through concrete action,” he said.
He called for an end of public financing for new coal plants overseas unless they deploy carbon-capture technologies, or there’s no other viable way for the poorest countries to generate electricity. And he urged other countries to join this effort.
“And I’m directing my administration to launch negotiations toward global free trade in environmental goods and services, including clean energy technology, to help more countries skip past the dirty phase of development and join a global low-carbon economy. They don’t have to repeat all the same mistakes that we made,” said Obama.
“We’ve also intensified our climate cooperation with major emerging economies like India and Brazil, and China – the world’s largest emitter,” he said. “Earlier this month, President Xi of China and I reached an important agreement to jointly phase down our production and consumption of dangerous hydrofluorocarbons, and we intend to take more steps together in the months to come. It will make a difference. It’s a significant step in the reduction of carbon emissions.”
Secretary of State John Kerry said today that the Obama Administration is making progress internationally. “Climate change cannot be solved by one nation alone. The global community must step up. I raise this issue everywhere I travel, in every meeting, and we have already broken new ground by creating the U.S.-China Working Group, where we recently agreed to work together to phase down a class of potent greenhouse gases.”
“Just this past weekend, we launched a Climate Working Group with India that can lead to similar advances. And we are working with partners around the world to craft an ambitious, fair, and durable international climate agreement,” said Kerry. “Continued pressure and high-level engagement is vital to reduce emissions, transform global energy economies, and help the most vulnerable cope with the effects of climate change. We must use every day to find and take tangible, collaborative steps forward.”
California Governor Jerry Brown said, “The President’s action plan to reduce greenhouse gases is absolutely essential. California stands ready to do its part to ensure that America successfully asserts its leadership on climate change.”
Support also came from New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who said, “The President’s commitment to finalizing, within two years, federal rules requiring existing fossil-fueled power plants to reduce their climate change pollution is an essential part of his plan. My office looks forward to working with the EPA, states, and other stakeholders to promptly develop strong rules. We also look forward to hearing more from the administration on its plans to control methane emissions from oil and gas development.”
Many of the nation’s mayors also expressed their support. Sacramento California Mayor Kevin Johnson, first vice president, U.S. Conference of Mayors and chair, Resilient Communities for America campaign said, “President Obama’s Climate Action Plan is welcome news to mayors, because our communities have been on the front lines of climate change and the new reality of extreme weather it has created.”
“Last week more than 50 top mayors and county leaders pledged to work toward creating more prepared, resilient communities in the face of our extreme weather and energy challenges,” said Johnson. “President Obama’s Climate Action Plan will strengthen and support this new leadership movement.”