Obama Lays Out Climate Change Plan; Kentucky Reacts

President Obama’s administration will take new, stricter steps to reduce the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. The president laid out his plan to address climate change this afternoon; it’s predictably won accolades from environmental groups, but is being attacked by the coal industry.

In his speech, President Obama laid out the problem: prevailing science shows the world’s climate is changing, and humans have something to do with that. Climate change has already been linked to more frequent flooding, drought and violent storms in some areas, and Obama warned swift action is necessary.

To reduce the greenhouse gases that are contributing to climate change, Obama proposed carbon dioxide standards for both new and existing power plants, which will mostly affect coal plants. (The standards for new power plants have already been proposed, and were supposed to be finalized earlier this year but are delayed.) The proposal gives $8 billion in loan guarantees for innovative energy projects—including carbon capture and sequestration and other coal technology—and sets more ambitious goals for the generation of renewable energy on public lands.

In general, the speech was well-received by environmental groups. Sarah Lynn Cunningham directs the Louisville Climate Action Network. She says she’s pleased with the president’s plan, and thinks it is grounded in science.

“There is no silver bullet to this all-encompassing problem, but there is silver buckshot,” she said. “And I thought the president did a great job addressing the various buckshot we can use to get ourselves out of this climate crisis.”

Cunningham says Kentucky shouldn’t repeat mistakes it made with the tobacco industry, ignoring signs that it was on the decline. “We’ve been doing the same with coal and apparently it’s going to take the president to force us to start to deal with reality,” she said, urging a planned transition to cleaner fuels.

But the proposal wasn’t well-received by the coal industry, and some politicians. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell blasted the plan on the Senate floor, saying it would destroy Kentucky’s economy. Kentucky Coal Association president Bill Bissett echoed those concerns.

“He’s doing a lot of damage to an industry that Kentucky and this nation is very dependent upon and he’s going to have real-world effects on our economy, and that’s not what we need right now when our economy is still struggling,” he said.

But the jury is still out on whether Obama’s administration will approve the controversial Keystone XL pipeline. Environmental groups are still waiting for the State Department to make a final determination on whether the pipeline will be built, and Obama alluded to that in his speech. The pipeline would carry oil from tar sands mines in Canada through the U.S. to the Gulf of Mexico, and groups like 350.org have warned that building the pipeline would be a step back in the fight against climate change. In his speech today, Obama said the pipeline could only be approved if it “does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.”

To see reaction to the plan from other politicians and groups, click here.

Erica Peterson

Erica Peterson reports on energy and the environment for WFPL.

@ericampeterson

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