President Obama said Tuesday that he would not approve the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline if it will lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.
"Our national interest will be served only if this project doesn't significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution," Obama said during a climate change policy speech delivered at Georgetown University. "The net effects of the pipeline's impact will be absolutely critical in determining if the project is allowed to go forward."
The Keystone XL oil pipeline has been the center of controversy since it was proposed in 2008. The president has been slow to weigh in on it, choosing instead to issue an executive order asking the State Department to address the project first. Many groups have urged him to reject the pipeline.
The president also laid out a series of reforms to reduce the country's greenhouse emissions and to develop renewable clean energy at home in order to address the growing threat of climate change. Among the president’s plan is a call for the Environmental Protection Agency to set new carbon emissions limits for both new and existing power plants by June 2014. The EPA has already imposed regulations on newly constructed power plants, but by regulating emissions from power plants already in operation, the U.S. could lower greenhouse gases significantly. The EPA estimates about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. comes from power plants.
The plan also outlines a number of actions to continue the Obama administration's work to deploy and develop renewable and other clean energy technology, including an $8-billion federal loan guarantee to be made available for advanced fossil fuel and energy efficiency projects.
"The actions I’ve announced today should send a strong signal to the world that America intends to take bold actions to reduce carbon pollution," Obama said. "I am convinced this is the fight America can and will lead in the 21st century, and I am convinced it is a fight America must lead."
Obama said his administration planned to partner with auto industry leaders to develop post-2018 fuel economy standards for heavy-duty vehicles. Last August, the Obama administration set new fuel efficiency standards with the goal of reducing U.S. dependency on foreign oil. In a statement, the White House re-emphasized the importance of reducing reliance on foreign oil, and added that the new fuel economy standards would also save families money at the pump.
In his speech, Obama also hit on the partisan gridlock that has stalled progress on such issues since 2010; he specifically called out climate change deniers. "I don’t have much patience for anybody who denies this problem is real. We don’t have time for a meeting of the Flat Earth Society. Sticking your head in the sand might make you feel safer, but it’s not going to protect you from the coming storm," the president said.
A senior administration official told reporters Monday that "Congress has not acted" despite the data that proves climate change to be a real threat in the immediate future, according to NBC News. But under the Clean Air Act, Obama is able to bypass congressional approval for any of his actions—a move that is expected to draw backlash from the right.
House Speaker John Boehner criticized the president's efforts ahead of the speech in a statement released Monday. "While President Obama is preparing to roll out a new ream of red tape that will make American energy more expensive and destroy jobs, the House is moving forward with its all-of-the-above energy agenda this week," Boehner said. The House's proposed Offshore Energy & Jobs Act would expand offshore drilling, and is expected to pass the House this week.
Republicans have already made movements to stall progress on the president's climate agenda by blocking his nomination of Gina McCarthy to head the EPA last month. "She's terrific," Obama said Tuesday. "The Senate should confirm her without any further obstruction or delay." McCarthy served as the EPA's Office of Air and Radiation assistant administrator during Obama's first term.
Environmental groups praised the president's calls to action, but noted that tackling carbon pollution was just the beginning of many more issues.
"This plan takes aim at the heart of the problem: the dangerous carbon pollution from our power plants," said Dan Lashof, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program with the National Resources Defense Council, in a statement. "Reducing that pollution is the most important step we can take, as a nation, to stand up to climate change."