Obama’s Broad Climate Plan to Regulate Carbon Emissions from Power Plants for First Time

White House Exterior

President Obama this week unveiled a broad national plan for addressing climate change that would regulate carbon emissions from both new and existing power plants for the first time.

Called the “heart” of the President’s plan by senior White House environmental advisor Heather Zichal, carbon emissions limits on power plants would be developed in a series of regulations by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Obama signed a presidential memorandum following his June 25 speech at Georgetown University unveiling his plan that requires EPA to re-propose emissions limits for new power plants by Sept. 20 of this year and compels the agency to finalize emissions limits for existing power plants by June 2015.

“We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said in his speech. “Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it's not going to protect you from the coming storm. And ultimately, we will be judged as a people, and as a society, and as a country, on where we go from here.”

The national plan emphasizes three strategies—reducing carbon emissions in the United States, expanding and increasing international engagement on the issue, and preparing local communities for the impacts of climate change.

Zichal said after the president’s speech that many of the aspects of the national plan enjoy bipartisan support and “a climate and energy policy does not have to be a bipartisan fight.” She highlighted energy efficiency and extending renewable energy tax credits as areas of the plan that could find bipartisan support in Congress.

Republicans in Congress did not seem to share Zichal’s optimism that common ground could be found in Congress, suggesting Obama’s plan was an overreach of the executive branch’s powers and would impose costly regulations that would cripple the economy.

“The expansion of his powers is what bothers me as much as anything else,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) told reporters. “This president is stretching the limits of the executive branch's power under the Constitution.”

Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) vowed to make an appropriations package for EPA and the Department of the Interior a “battleground” over the carbon emissions regulations outlined by Obama in the speech.

“I am confident our entire [Republican] conference understands both the danger of allowing the President to circumvent Congress and the devastating consequences to our economy and job creation if these new rules and regulations are approved,” Simpson said.

The speech may also have immediate impacts on the nomination of Gina McCarthy to head EPA as multiple Republicans ramped up their opposition to the nomination in light of Obama's speech.

“The president made a decision to give this speech, and I think it has an impact on her nomination,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said.