US president Barack Obama has outlined a national action plan to combat climate change.

US president Barack Obama pledged in his inaugural address in January to act on climate change in his second term. He used an address at Georgetown University in Washington DC on 25 June to take the first steps in making good that promise.
In the course of it he mocked climate change deniers and threw down the gauntlet to the vested interests in the coal industry and elsewhere that were resisting regulation on the grounds that they would severely damage American industry and destroy livelihoods. He pointed out that all similar changes in the past – to pollution from cars, and to plastics production for example -­ had been resisted by ‘the doomsaysers’ but that through American ingenuity they had always led to a stronger and more productive industrial sector.
In an address that signalled his administration’s intention to ratchet up the country’s internal war over climate change issues, Obama laid out a new national climate action plan, with heavy emphasis on cutting emissions from power plants, which produce about 40% of the USA’s CO2 pollution, greater energy efficiency and a huge incease in the contribution from renewables.
So now, 16 years after the global agreement to tackle climate change embodied in the Kyoto Protocol, the US is planning to take part. The president has reaffirmed his 2009 commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 17% below 2005 levels by the end of the decade. It is part of a wider strategy that also includes new efficiency standards for trucks, electrical appliances and government buildings, a reduction in greenhouse pollutants like methane and soot, and infrastructure defences against climate damage such as hardening of the Atlantic coastline around New York. But the plan is not yet precisely quantified, nor as yet defined for the long term, and it assumes a continued reliance, at least in the medium term, on natural gas.
Most of the president’s agenda can be executed without Congressional approval, but it remains unclear how strict the limits will be. Some issues are likely to face opposition from Congress and from vested interests, particularly the coal industry.

Clean Air Act
‘Forty-three years ago’ said Obama, ‘Congress passed a law called the Clean Air Act of 1970. Six years ago, the Supreme Court ruled that greenhouse gases are pollutants covered by that same Clean Air Act. And they required the Environmental Protection Agency to determine whether they’re a threat to our health and welfare. In 2009, the EPA determined that they are a threat to both our health and our welfare in many different ways – from dirtier air to more common heat waves – and, therefore, subject to regulation.’ This was an oblique but deliberate reference to continual blocking in Congress of successive energy bills and the successful challenge by groupings of industrial concerns and state governments to EPA Rules on carbon dioxide and other pollutants.
And although many states and cities have passed their own legislation on pollution ‘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.’
‘So today I’m directing the EPA 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. I’m also directing the EPA to develop these standards in an open and transparent way, to provide flexibility to different states with different needs. [And] I’m directing the Interior Department to green light enough private, renewable energy capacity on public lands to power more than 6 million homes by 2020.’ This would imply a doubling of current levels of solar and wind energy. Moreover ‘The Department of Defence – the biggest energy consumer in America – will install 3 GW of renewable power on its bases.’ This amounts to burning 3 million tons less of coal every year. He also set higher goals for renewable energy at federal housing projects and announced $8bn in federal loan guarantees to spur investment in green technologies.
Crucially, Obama will also include in his next budget a call for Congress to end the tax breaks for big oil companies, and invest instead in clean-energy.

The top Republican in Congress, House Speaker John Boehner, has called the plans "absolutely crazy".
Other critics say these reductions are too modest, and less aggressive than European Union targets. The target of a 17% CO2 reduction from 2005 levels is equivalent to 4% on 1990 levels – a start, but less than a fifth of the EU’s target.
Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency proposed regulating emissions from new power plants, but that plan was delayed by successful legal challenges. Seven US governors have asked Obama to abandon this proposal, which they say would "effectively shutter" coal-fired power plants and prevent the construction of new ones.
Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell said that imposing carbon rules on power plants amounted to a war on coal. ‘This is a huge step in the wrong direction, particularly in the middle of the most tepid recovery after a deep recession in anyone’s memory’ he said.