By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

President Barack Obama delivered a pointed speech on climate change today, which suggested that the Keystone XL pipeline will not be automatically approved and drilled down on the biggest source of carbon emissions, power plants.

Obama at Georgetown UThe highlight of The President’s Climate Action Plan, unveiled before an audience at Georgetown University, will be a move by the EPA to set limits on carbon pollution from power plants, the president said.

This type of pollution accounts for about 40 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions, and yet it has never been regulated because the U.S. Supreme Court only recently ruled that carbon pollution fell under the Clean Air Act.

“I’m directing the EPA to put an end to the limitless dumping of carbon pollution” from (mainly) coal-fired power plants, Obama told the Georgetown audience and those listening into a live stream.

The move to tamp down coal emissions delighted environmentalists, including the Sierra Club, which has made coal pollution a major focus in recent years.

“The Sierra Club’s 2.1 million members and supporters issued a collective cheer as they heard the President declare that the most effective defense against climate disruption will be by tackling the biggest source of carbon pollution: coal plants,” Sierra said in a statement.

Obama stressed that this action, and other moves toward a clean energy economy, does not mean that jobs will be lost.

Critics, he said, always predict that environmental protections will “crush the economy.

“That’s what they say every time America sets better standards for our water and air….and every time they’ve been wrong,” he said.

The president did give a nod to the “cleaner” energy from natural gas that some cities and states are switching to, a point that’s hugely contentious with anti-fracking forces, who say natural gas extraction takes too high of a toll on water resources.

But Obama spent more time explaining how the U.S. can get more energy efficient by using renewables, such as wind and solar power, and continuing to make and use more fuel-efficient cars and trucks.

At a couple junctures, he expressed frustration with the opponents to change, saying that the climate crisis “is a challenge that does not pause for partisan gridlock. It demands our attention now.”

He has no time, he said, for climate skeptics, who argue that there’s no need to mitigate or prepare for climate change.

Coal fired power plants

“I don’t have much patience for anybody who denies this challenge is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society,” Obama said.

The naysayers who worry that a shift away from fossil fuels will hurt the economy have it wrong, he said.

“The problem with all these tired excuses for lack of action is it suggests a fundamental lack of faith in American businesses.”

Don’t  bet against Americans, he said, they’ll figure a way, and “don’t tell us we have to choose between our health and our economy.”

“We have to look after our children, we have to look after our future and grow jobs and the economy. We can do all of that as long as we don’t fear the future, we seize it.”

Obama threw climate activists a surprise, when he signaled that the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not necessarily a done deal.

The pipeline, currently under construction in Canada and the U.S., will not be approved unless it is shown to be “in the national interest,” Obama said. And if it raises carbon emissions “significantly” it won’t be.

Climate activists have been fighting the transcontinental project because it will enable vast quantities of energy intensive tar sands oil from Canada’s vast oil sands fields to enter the world market, sustaining fossil fuel economies and raising carbon emissions. founder and well-known environmentalist Bill McKibben said afterward that Obama seems to be taking a reasoned approach to the pipeline.

It “makes me think it’s more likely the White House will reject the Keystone Pipeline, which is the biggest environmental battle in a generation–the president is a logical man, and taking two steps forward only to take two back would make no sense,” McKibben said.

“The president’s remarks today on the Keystone XL pipeline are deeply encouraging,” said Green for All   CEO Phaedra Ellis-Lamkins. “He’ll say no to the pipeline if it proves to not be in America’s interest, and it is not. The evidence is clear—the pipeline would contribute to climate change.  Saying yes to Keystone would put the health and safety of our own communities at greater risk.

The president also piqued the interest of those who advocate divestiture in dirty fuels  as a way to hasten the clean energy economy, when toward the end of the speech he urged Americans to advocate for green power by telling people it won’t take away jobs.

“Invest. Divest,” he said, an apparent reference to the movement to push colleges and cities to divest from coal and oil power, and invest in green energy.

Though it was roundly applauded, the president’s speech did not call out all issues on the environmental agenda. Sierra Club summed up the remaining business in its statement:

“There is still more work to be done. The President’s climate commitment and his speech today gives us great hope that he will finally address some of the remaining, worst abuses of the fossil fuel industry, including dirty and dangerous fracking, ending the devastating practice of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, halting destructive oil drilling in the Arctic, and overhauling the sweetheart deal on public lands that pads the bottom line of coal companies at public expense”

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