UPDATE 1-Obama takes on power plant emissions as part of climate plan
WASHINGTON, June 25 (Reuters) - President Barack Obama will kick-start a global climate agenda on Tuesday with a plan to limit carbon pollution from all U.S. power plants that is sure to face opposition from the coal industry, many business groups and Republican lawmakers.
Obama, whose first-term attempt to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through a "cap and trade" system was thwarted by Republicans, will make aggressive use of the powers he has, recognizing that broader changes in laws to put a price on carbon emissions are unlikely given gridlock in Congress.
He will direct the Environmental Protection Agency to craft new emissions rules for thousands of power plants, the bulk of which burn coal, and which account for roughly one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.
"We already set limits for arsenic, mercury and lead but we let power plants release as much carbon pollution as they want," a senior administration official told reporters.
Share prices for major U.S. coal mining companies slipped again on Tuesday after falling sharply on Monday in anticipation of the Obama plan.
The EPA is routinely challenged in court, both by industry groups seeking to quash rules, and by green groups trying to push the agency to set tougher standards.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Republican-leaning states have petitioned the Supreme Court to review rules to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
The new proposals also are expected to draw legal fire and political criticism from industry and Republican lawmakers about the impact on U.S. jobs and the economic recovery.
The details of the new regulations will be drafted over the next year, and their costs are still to be determined. But Obama will set out an ambitious timetable to see them finalized by June 2015.
"Laying out a specific schedule makes it a lot more difficult for the president to turn back," said Michael Levi, head of the Council on Foreign Relations' energy and climate program.
The EPA regulations likely will create incentives for power plant operators to shift from coal to natural gas, said Levi, author of "The Power Surge," a book about how the boom in U.S. natural gas production has changed the energy industry.
But for the United States to aggressively attack climate change, the U.S. Congress would need to agree to put a price on carbon emissions, Levi said.
"In the long run, this doesn't change the fundamental fact that we need new laws and new legislation in order to fully tackle this large problem," Levi told Reuters.
NEW FIGHT WITH REPUBLICANS
Obama's speech, scheduled for 1:55 p.m. EDT (1755 GMT), also will address plans to boost renewable energy, spur action on global warming in talks with other nations, and shore up America's defenses against storms and rising sea levels linked to climate change.
Early in his second term, Obama promised to take another crack at the climate issue.
Environmentalists and Obama's political base have been anxious for action but the first months of his second term have been dominated by immigration reform, a failed attempt to pass strict gun control measures and a series of political scandals.
Republicans, in turn, have been emboldened by Obama's stumbles. Many also question climate science and oppose regulatory actions they say could hurt jobs.
"It's tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today's economy," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who planned to talk to to Obama about his concerns at a meeting at the White House scheduld for later on Tuesday.
Environmental groups cheered Obama's plan as a bold step.
"Tackling carbon pollution from power plants is the greatest opportunity and should be at the core of any serious approach to reduce U.S. emissions," Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, said in a statement.
"This announcement will have ripple effects that will increase the urgency of action around the globe," he said.
Some environmentalists fear that Obama will use new climate measures to head off criticism if his administration approves the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, which would carry oil from Canada to refineries in Texas.
The pipeline has been under review for more than four years, with a final decision expected this year or early in 2014.
Green groups want Obama to reject the pipeline because they argue extraction of the oil produces too much carbon and the pipeline poses risks of spills.
The leader of mass protests against Keystone said he did not expect Obama to mention the pipeline during the speech. Bill McKibben of the group 350.org said he was optimistic Obama's new carbon battle would mean he will ultimately reject the project.
"The president is above all a logical man, and kicking off a climate action plan only to approve a tar sands pipeline is like saying you're ready to quit smoking then buying a carton of Marlboros," McKibben said in an email to his group's members.
The president's allies abroad will be watching, too. In 2009, Obama pledged to reduce U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by roughly 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 - cheering partners in Europe, who were frustrated by less ambitious promises made by Obama's Republican predecessor, George W. Bush.
Obama will stand by that pledge on Tuesday, and officials said Washington wants to take the lead in international efforts to seek an agreement to reduce emissions after 2020.