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President Obama unveiled a wide-ranging new plan today designed to address climate change. For the first time, carbon emissions from power plants would be regulated. The policy would be implemented without congressional approval. And it includes steps to deal with extreme weather events that are already occurring.

Here's NPR's Richard Harris.

RICHARD HARRIS, BYLINE: It wasn't a coincidence that President Obama chose to give this speech to a young crowd at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It may also have been deliberate to give the speech outside while the temperature hit 92 degrees. The president said his measures to address climate change are done to protect the world that these young adults and their children will inherit.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: As a president, as a father and as an American, I'm here to say we need to act.

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: And after the applause died down, he continued...

OBAMA: I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing.

HARRIS: And while the president made clear that his national climate action plan wouldn't come close to solving the problem, he said it's a step in the right direction. First, and most controversially, it calls for the Environmental Protection Agency to develop standards for carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. He noted there are already rules to restrict mercury and other toxic emissions from those smokestacks.

OBAMA: But power plants can still dump unlimited amounts of carbon pollution into the air for free. That's not right. It's not safe. And it needs to stop.

HARRIS: The plan would also encourage more efficient use of energy and also lead to a transition toward cleaner sources of power. Obama noted that wind and solar energy supplies doubled during his first term in office.

OBAMA: The plan I'm announcing today will help us double again our energy from wind and sun.

HARRIS: That includes opening up more federal lands so private companies can build wind farms and solar plants there.

A second major element of the plan calls for actions to help the nation cope with weather-related changes that are already taking place. That means preparing farmers to cope better with droughts and to help local governments be better prepared for weather disasters.

OBAMA: And what we've learned from Hurricane Sandy and other disasters is that we've got to build smarter, more resilient infrastructure that can protect our homes and businesses and withstand more powerful storms.

HARRIS: Obama anticipated resistance to these ideas. In fact, his program was designed entirely to be done with measures that the White House can take without involving Congress. That's because many Republicans in Congress don't even acknowledge climate change as a serious issue. But Obama said he also would also welcome measures from Capitol Hill if that attitude were to shift back to the days when it truly was a bipartisan issue.

OBAMA: Nobody has a monopoly on what is a very hard problem, but I don't have much patience for anyone who denies that this challenge is real. We don't have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society.

(APPLAUSE)

HARRIS: Obama also made passing reference to the Keystone XL Pipeline, saying the Canada-to-Texas pipeline would only be approved if it does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.

The most controversial element of this policy is the new rules that would limit carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. Scott Segal is a lawyer at Bracewell & Giuliani, who represents power companies.

SCOTT SEGAL: The devil is in the details with any policy.

HARRIS: The Obama plan simply directs the EPA to come up with those emission rules but doesn't specify what they should be. Make them too lenient and you don't restrict carbon emissions. Make them too onerous and, Segal says, manufacturers might move overseas in search of cheaper power.

SEGAL: And if they do that, the irony is the carbon footprint of the American economy gets worse, not better.

HARRIS: That's similar to the argument industry has made about every clean air rule, Mr. Obama noted, and it's never come to pass.

Frances Beinecke, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, also sees the emissions control on power plants as the most important element of the president's plan.

FRANCES BEINECKE: I think it's a major step forward.

HARRIS: She anticipates a fight to make those standards tough enough to make a dent in carbon pollution. But she says that's familiar territory for environmental groups like hers.

BEINECKE: Our job is making sure they're as strong as possible.

HARRIS: A draft of those rules is supposed to be ready in a year. And the White House optimistically hopes to see a final rule in 2015.

Richard Harris, NPR News.

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