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Obama’s battle against global warming: Hope vs. reality

What is the Clean Power Plan?

It’s the centerpiece of President Barack Obama’s plan to attack climate change by reducing carbon pollution. This is the first time the Environmental Protection Agency will require a reduction in carbon emissions from power plants, which are responsible for some 40 percent of such U.S. emissions.

What would it do?

The goal is to cut power plant carbon emissions by 32 percent from 2005 levels. Each state is being given its own target and has until 2022 to start making the cuts.

States can meet their targets in multiple ways. That includes increases in energy efficiency, ramping up the use of renewable energy, switching from coal to natural gas, and becoming part of a cap and trade network in which overall emissions are limited and polluters buy and sell rights to release greenhouse gases.

Why is the president doing it?

Obama declared that it represents “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.” It’s also part of a U.S. effort to encourage an international climate treaty at talks scheduled for Paris in December.

Will it make a difference in the warming of the planet?

The U.S. cuts would represent just a small percentage of global carbon dioxide emissions, so any action America takes alone would have a limited impact.

Conservative critics of the president’s plan, such as those at the Heritage Foundation think tank in Washington, argue that “the U.S. could cut its CO2 emissions 100 percent and it would not make a difference in global warming.”

Supporters, though, call it a historic step needed for the U.S. to meet its climate change goals and convince the rest of the world, including China, the world’s largest producer of carbon emissions, to take global action on the issue.

Who is opposing it?

Congressional Republicans, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, call it a “war on coal” and are vowing to stop it. Fourteen states and the coal industry are trying to overturn the rule in the courts.

Can they succeed?

Obama has veto power, so it’s unlikely that his opponents in Congress will be able to overturn the climate plan.

As for the courts, only time will tell, with EPA administrator Gina McCarthy expressing her confidence to reporters that “we certainly know how to defend against lawsuits, for crying out loud.”

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