Obama offers sweeping climate change plan; Louisiana lawmakers denounce it

06 26, 2013 by The Times-Picayune

Saying he refuses to condemn American young people and future generations to a "planet that is beyond saving," President Barack Obama on Tuesday announced sweeping new measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change.

Obama, speaking at Georgetown University, said he would use his executive powers to require reductions in carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, and support efforts to help states and local governments reduce flood risks. New flood-risk reduction standards for all federally funded projects will be developed, he said, and incentives will be provided to encourage more alternative energy options.

Louisiana Republicans immediately condemned the plan, saying it would cost the economy millions of jobs and amounted to a war on fossil fuels.

While acknowledging that no single weather event is caused solely by climate change, the president said it's clear "all weather events are affected by a warming climate."

"The potential impacts go beyond rising sea levels," Obama said. "Here at home, 2012 was the warmest year in our history; Midwest farms were parched by the worst drought since the Dust Bowl, and then drenched by the wettest spring on record. Western wildfires scorched an area larger than the state of Maryland. Just last week a heat wave in Alaska shot temperatures to the 90s. We know that the costs of these events can be measured in lost lives and lost livelihoods, lost homes, lost businesses, hundreds of billions of dollars in emergency services and disaster relief."

Sen. David Vitter, R-La., the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said the president's new climate change plan comes after Gina McCarthy, the president's nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency, denied that the agency is working on a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions form power plant. The denials, he said, came in response to questions he and other Republicans submitted to her as part of the nomination process.

"The pattern of behavior from this administration is to hide their true plans from the public and conduct business without transparency," Vitter said. "Their plans, often developed in secret, result in job loss and added costs to taxpayers. In almost the same breath, he laid the groundwork to implement regulations akin to a carbon tax, which would frustrate economic recovery; and waivered on the Keystone pipeline, which would obviously be a huge job creator."

In his speech, Obama said the 1,200-mile pipeline would only get his approval if it won't have a significant effect on climate.

Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she and the president have "very different views on how to tackle the challenges of climate change."

"We both want to protect the environment, but I believe that overzealous regulations are harmful to our economy," Landrieu said. She applauded the president's call to help states reducing flood risks, but expressed disappointment he did not approve the Keystone Pipeline.

Rep. Bill Cassidy, R-Baton Rouge, who is running against Landrieu in the 2014 Louisiana Senate race, said Obama's plan "will have the effect of raising the cost of energy and destroying blue collar jobs in manufacturing, mining and construction."

Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Jefferson, said the president "continued his assault on American energy, yet again directing the EPA to bully our nation's manufacturers and power plants by imposing radical regulations which will force the cost of gas at the pump to skyrocket even higher, and will destroy millions of jobs here at home."

Louisiana environmentalists praised the president's plan and said it is ironic some Louisiana members of Congress are fighting efforts to reduce climate control while at the same time seeking billions of dollars for coastal restorations - efforts they say will be significantly compromised by rising temperatures and resulting sea level increases.

"The Gulf has long suffered the brunt of the damage from the nation's addiction to dirty energy, and even now, new coal export terminal expansions are threatening to derail coastal restoration in Louisiana," said Cynthia Sarthou, Executive Director with the Gulf Restoration Network. "We're pleased to see the President take a strong step towards slowing climate change, but for many communities in the Gulf, time is running out."

Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Bridgade, said opposition from Louisiana lawmakers isn't surprising

"When Gulf Coast senators and some of our representatives assail the President for today's actions, remember that they are in the pockets of big oil and dirty coal," Rolfes said. "They do not represent the interests of the ordinary people in Louisiana. We are impacted by climate change. Our Congress people need to get with it or go and join the dinosaurs."

During his first time, Obama disappointed environmentalists by not in their view seriously addressing climate change.

In his speech at Georgetown, the president said that the American people ought to look skeptically at claims by opponents that his plan will cost jobs.

"The problems with all these tired excuses for inaction is that it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American business and American ingenuity," the president said to applause from his Georgetown audience sweating on a 90-degree, high humidity Washington afternoon. "These critics seem to think that when we ask our businesses to innovate and reduce pollution and lead, they can't, or they won't do it. They'll all just kind of give up and quit. But in America, we know that's not true."

Obama said that when America phased out CFCs, gases linked to depleting the ozone layer, "it didn't kill off refrigerators or air conditions or deodorant.

"American workers and businesses figured out how to do it better without harming the environment as much," Obama said.

You could read the president's speech here:

On the same day the president unveiled his plan, the Department of Defense showed how hard it is to reduce use of fossil fuels. The Pentagon announced the awarding of eight contracts to buy $2.3 billion of traditional oil-based fuels.