U.S. President Barack Obama will unveil a plan on June 2 that will cut carbon pollution from power plants and promote cap-and-trade, undertaking the most significant action on climate change in American history.

The proposed regulations Obama will launch at the White House on Monday could cut carbon pollution by as much as 25 per cent from about 1,600 power plants in operation today, according to those claiming familiarity with the plan.

Power plants are the country’s single biggest source of carbon pollution — responsible for up to 40 per cent of the country’s emissions.

The rules, which were drafted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and are under review by the White House, are expected to do more than Obama, or any other President, has done so far to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions responsible for climate change.

They will put America on course to meet its international climate goal, and put U.S. diplomats in a better position to leverage climate commitments from big polluters such as China and India, Obama said in a speech to West Point graduates this week.

“I intend to make sure America is out front in a global framework to preserve our planet,” he said. “American influence is always stronger when we lead by example. We can not exempt ourselves from the rules that apply to everyone else.”

Political backclash

It won’t be without a fight. Obama went on in his remarks at West Point to take a shot at Republicans who deny climate change is occurring, and the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, on May 29 accused critics of making “doomsday claims” about the costs of cutting carbon.

But the White House still showed some signs of nervousness about a political backlash, releasing a report about expanded oil and gas production on Obama’s watch and adding to the furious spinning by environmental and industry groups about the potential costs and benefits of the EPA regulations.

“We actually see this as the Super Bowl of climate politics,” said Peter Altman, director of the climate and clean air campaign for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), which produced a model carbon-cutting plan that has helped guide the EPA regulations.

But if all unfolds according to plan, Obama will have succeeded in overcoming blanket opposition — and outright climate denial in many cases — from Republicans and some Democrats in Congress, an industry-funded misinformation campaign, and a slew of anticipated lawsuits.

Obama had originally hoped to cut carbon pollution by moving a bill through Congress. Four years after that effort fell apart, campaigners say the EPA rules could deliver significant emissions cuts — near the 17 per cent Obama proposed at the Copenhagen climate summit — and the cap-and-trade programmes that were so reviled by Republicans.

The EPA, using its authority under the Clean Air Act, proposed the first rule phase, covering future power plants, last September.

America’s carbon dioxide emissions have been falling over the last few years to the lowest levels since the 1990s, because of a switch from coal to cheaper natural gas, and on a smaller scale increased investment in renewables. The economic downturn also reduced demand for electricity.

The White House said those changes — which were mainly market—driven — showed the EPA regulations would not hurt the economy as critics claim. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2014

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