Obama expected to unveil new controls on ozone emissions

Inside The American Electric Power Co. Coal-Fired Power Plant
Emissions rise from the American Electric Power Co. Inc. coal-fired John E. Amos Power Plant in Winfield, West Virginia, on July 31, 2014.

The Obama administration on Wednesday is set to make public a sweeping environmental regulation to curb emissions of ozone — a smog-causing pollutant — an order that has been long-awaited by environmentalists and public health advocates.

The policy would reduce smog from power plants and factories across the country, with a focus on the Midwest, The New York Times reported on Tuesday. It would lower the current threshold for ozone pollution from 75 parts per billion to a range of 65 to 70 parts per billion, the Times reported. The previous standard for ozone, which is linked to asthma, heart disease, and premature death, was most recently set by the Bush administration in 2008. The final rule could be set to a stricter maximum at 60 parts per billion.

The regulation is the latest in a series of U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) controls on air pollution, which President Barack Obama set to accomplish beginning last year. The Obama administration has made it clear that the president wants to implement plans to halt climate change during his second term. But Republicans and industry groups have said ultimately they will block or overturn the entire group of EPA rules. Over the summer, the EPA unveiled a proposal that would cut power plant emissions by 30% before 2030. 

The United Nations' 2014 Climate Summit convened in September at its headquarters in Manhattan. There, Obama made public a new executive order and other government initiatives intended to combat the threat of climate change. The most significant policy was an order requiring that federal agencies acknowledge environmental sustainability when they design new international development programs.

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The extreme effects of climate change are felt on every continent and across the world's oceans, according to an assessment released earlier this year by the UN. The global threat will continue to worsen if leaders don’t rein in the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. A major UN conference on climate change is scheduled to be held next year in Paris.

The U.S. government last week reported that the average combined land and ocean temperatures in October were the highest ever documented since 1880. And the National Climatic Data Center recently said the Earth is on track to have its hottest year on record.

Obama and Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month agreed on a climate deal to reduce carbon emissions and tackle the growing crisis of global climate change. The pact includes a first-ever commitment by the Asian country to stop its emissions from increasing entirely after 2030.