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Political battles simmer ahead of Obama’s strict climate change plan

President Barack Obama proposed the toughest regulations in U.S. history to combat climate change, with the most significant rule requiring existing power plants to cut emissions by 32 percent by 2030. But the rules face opposition from Congressional Republicans and lawsuits from the energy industry and coal power states. To discuss the plan, New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris joins Hari Sreenivasan from Washington, D.C.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    President Obama is proposing the toughest regulations in U.S. history to combat climate change.

    In a video previewing tomorrow’s announcement, the president says climate change is not an opinion, but a fact and a threat. He calls power plants the biggest domestic source of polluting emissions that contribute to global warming. The most significant rule would require existing power plants to cut emissions from 2005 levels by 32 percent by 2030.

    Other rules would limit construction of new coal-burning plants and require more use of clean energy sources like wind and solar.

  • BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States:

    We limit the amount of toxic chemicals like mercury and sulfur and arsenic in our air and water, and we’re better off for it.

    But existing power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of harmful carbon pollution into the air we breathe. For the sake of our kids, for the health and safety of all Americans, that’s about to change.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Every state would be required to give the Environmental Protection Agency its plan for curbing emissions. But the rules face opposition from congressional Republicans and lawsuits from the energy industry and coal power states.

    To discuss Obama’s climate change plan, I’m joined by New York Times reporter Gardiner Harris, who is covering the story in Washington, D.C.

    So, states have targets under this plan, but they can set their own sort of way to get to those targets, right?

  • GARDINER HARRIS, The New York Times:

    That’s right.

    And they can sort of take two different paths, you can do sort of a cap-and-trade pathway, which is actually the favored pathway by the Obama administration, in which states sort of get together in a regional way, try hit their targets, and if one state gets a lot more in terms of carbon reduction, it can then sell that carbon reduction to a neighboring state that didn’t quite hit its target.

    The other way to do it is that the states could simply regulate their way to the cut and require reductions on a sort of a plant-by-plant basis. And, Hari, this is obviously going to lead to a huge political battle.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Right. And the opposition is already lined up. We — certainly, there are coal states, like, say, a West Virginia, that are going to push back.

    So, how long could this take?

  • GARDINER HARRIS:

    So, I lived in Hazard, Kentucky for many, many years, which is obviously one of the important coal-producing areas in the country. And this is going to be very hard for those places.

    And it’s likely going to lead to the shutdown of much of the coal-producing capacity in the United States, at least in the Appalachian region. But you’re right. It’s going to take some years for all of this to go into effect. States have to come up with their plans in about a year, with the goal for these reductions to really begin biting in 2022.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    The opposition says this is going to raise prices for utility consumers, energy consumers. The White House says it will lower prices. How do we figure this out?

  • GARDINER HARRIS:

    What this rule will do is accelerate changes that are already going on in the market.

    I mean, the coal-powered power plant is going away already, because coal is actually fairly expensive compared to, right now, natural gas, which is almost free because of the abundance of gas in fracking. There are some places that are clearly — this is going to be more expensive some places out West, some places in Appalachia that depend heavily right now on coal-fired power plants.

    They are going to have to make some — some fairly wrenching transitions.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right, Gardiner Harris of The New York Times joining us from Washington today, thanks so much.

  • GARDINER HARRIS:

    Happy to be here, Hari.

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