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Obama Moves to Limit Greenhouse Gases Emissions Through Executive Order

June 25, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT

GWEN IFILL: The president today renewed a pledge he has been making since 2008 to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow global warming. This time, he plans to exert executive authority to force action.

With today’s announcement, the president zeroed in on the new and existing power plants that burn coal and turn out 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As a president, as a father, and as an American, I’m here to say, we need to act.

GWEN IFILL: It’s the heart of his plan unveiled at Georgetown University in Washington to fight climate change.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Right now, there are no federal limits to the amount of carbon pollution that those plants can pump into our air. None. Zero. 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.

GWEN IFILL: Mr. Obama also called for letting wind and solar energy projects use public lands to generate more power.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: The plan I’m announcing today will help us double again our energy from wind and sun. Today, I’m directing the Interior Department to green-light enough private renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than six million homes by 2020.

GWEN IFILL: Without announcing a decision, the president singled out the proposed Keystone pipeline, which would transport crude oil, extract it from Canadian tar sands to the Gulf Coast. He said it should only be approved if it doesn’t worsen carbon pollution.

The overall planned joined the administration’s earlier initiatives to curb greenhouse gas emissions, from implementing new fuel-efficiency standards for American vehicles, to the recent agreement with China to reduce hydrofluorocarbons. Today’s actions would allow the president to sidestep Congress and act by executive order, but lawmakers could still try to thwart him.

Even before the speech, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell took to the Senate floor in opposition.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL, R-Ky.: Americans want commonsense policies to make energy cleaner and more affordable, the operative phrase being commonsense, because Americans are also deeply concerned about jobs and the economy. That’s what the president should be focused on. Incredibly, it appears to be the furthest thing from his mind.

GWEN IFILL: But the president said climate change skeptics miss the point, that with the 12 hottest years on record all happening in the past 15 years, it’s time to end the global warming debate.

PRESIDENT OBAMA: I don’t have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

Sticking your hand in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm.

GWEN IFILL: Today’s announcement drew a cautious response from the power industry, while environmental groups mostly endorsed the president’s approach.