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Can Small Steps Prevent Massive Change? Obama Unveils Long-Awaited Climate Plan

It doesn't involve cap-and-trade or a major international protocol, but the sweeping climate plan unveiled by President Obama today is 'the most far-reaching effort by an American president' to address climate change. Best of all, it skirts Congress.
June 25, 2013, 11am PDT | Jonathan Nettler | @nettsj
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The plan introduced by Obama at Georgetown University targets three main goals [PDF] of cutting carbon pollution, preparing the country for the impacts of climate change, and leading international efforts to address climate change with what Brad Plumer calls "the kitchen-sink approach to global warming." Among the executive actions put forth are pollution standards for new and existing power plants, new fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks, and billions of dollars for international climate mitigation and adaptation projects.

"Taken together, the officials said, the pieces of the plan would help the United States to meet Mr. Obama’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by about 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020," reports John M. Broder

Writing in Grist, David Roberts takes stock of Obama's "no-drama" approach. "So is it just a nothingburger?" he asks. "Should the lack of drama disappoint us?"

"I don’t think so. One of the great illusions of the climate movement has always been that the problem would or could be solved with a grand, sweeping gesture like a climate tax or a binding international agreement. That has been a recipe for disappointment. In fact, making the changes necessary to deal with climate is going to mean a lot of “strong and slow boring of hard boards,” integrating climate into the ordinary business of government, assembling and disseminating information, drawing in new partners, and building up constituencies. This is the unsexy, difficult work of turning the ship of state."

As Broder notes, "[e]nvironmental advocates, who have been impatiently waiting for Mr. Obama to make good on repeated pledges to address climate change, said they were encouraged by the forthcoming proposals."

“Really, this is a moment that’s been 20 years in the making,” said David Hawkins, director of the climate center at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Most of the last 20 years, unfortunately, have not been well spent.”

UPDATE: Juliet Eilperin notes the five important takeaways from Obama's speech announcing the proposals, including his comments referencing the Keystone XL project and his intention to pursue international climate agreements before the end of his second, and final, term.  

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Published on Tuesday, June 25, 2013 in The New York Times
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