In the strongest action ever taken in the United States to combat climate change, President Barack Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry.
The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind energy and solar power and other renewable energy sources.
As the president came to see the fight against climate change as central to his legacy, as important as the Affordable Care Act, he moved to strengthen the proposals, advisers said.
The most aggressive of the regulations requires the nation’s power plants to cut emissions 32 percent from 2005 levels by 2030, an increase from the 30 percent target proposed in the draft regulation.
That new rule also demands that power plants use more renewable energy like wind and solar power. While the proposed rule would have allowed states to lower emissions by transitioning from plants fired by coal to plants fired by natural gas – which produces about half the carbon pollution of coal – the final rule is intended to push electric utilities to invest more quickly in renewable sources, raising to 28 percent from 22 percent the share of generating capacity that would come from such sources.
The rule assigns each state a target for reducing its carbon pollution from power plants but allows states to create their own plans for doing so. States have to submit an initial version of their plans by 2016 and final versions by 2018.
Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican majority leader, has started a pre-emptive campaign against the rules, asking governors to refuse to comply. Experts estimate that as many as 25 states will join in a lawsuit against the rules and that the disputes will end up before the Supreme Court.