(USA TODAY) -- Taking a historic step to fight climate change, the Environmental Protection Agency today proposed a plan to slash carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30% nationwide by 2030.
"By leveraging cleaner energy sources and cutting energy waste, this plan will clean the air we breathe while helping slow climate change so we can leave a safe and healthy future for our kids," said EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, adding it will spur innovation and create jobs. She said the plan will give states flexibility to lower power plant emissions, setting goals tailored to their circumstances.
Yet the proposal, a major part of President Obama's climate initiative, will set a national target of lowering these heat-trapping CO2 emissions — from 2005 levels — of 25% by 2020 and 30% by 2030.
Total U.S. carbon emissions have already fallen slightly, about 10% since 2005, but the Department of Energy forecasts a slight rise in the near future without new emission caps.
Power plants account for roughly one-third of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, While plants are limited in how much arsenic, mercury, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particle pollution they can emit, they currently face no federal limits on carbon releases.
Thwarted by Congress' inability to pass a bill to lower carbon emissions, Obama is pushing his own approach. Last June, he asked the EPA to use its authority under the Clean Air Act to limit power plant emissions, which account for the largest share — nearly 40% — of total U.S. emissions.
Coal-fired facilities will be hardest hit, because they emit more carbon than other power plants.
The rule, expected to trigger legal challenges, will not take effect for at least two more years. Obama has asked the EPA to finalize it in June 2015, after which the states will have at least a year to craft their plans. If states balk at submitting them, the EPA could step in with its own version.
Opponents are already lining up against the proposal. Last week, the Chamber of Commerce released a report saying such regulation could raise consumer prices for electricity, kill jobs and slow economic growth.
In the GOP Saturday radio address, Wyoming's Sen. Mike Enzi said the Obama administration has "set out to kill coal and its 800,000 jobs." If it succeeds, he warned, "we'll all be paying a lot more money for electricity — if we can get it."
Obama said critics are wrong. He says the proposal will reduce air pollution, improve health and spur a clean energy economy that can be "an engine of growth." He spoke from the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., after visiting with kids being treated for asthma and other breathing problems that he said are aggravated by dirty air.
Obama plans Monday to discuss the details with national health groups including the American Lung Association.