Skip to Content

Obama Orders EPA to Regulate Power Plants in Wide-Ranging Climate Plan

The president presents a plan to use the EPA to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
June 25, 2013

On a hot day in Washington, DC, President Obama rolled up his sleeves and dabbed his forehead while describing the dangers of climate change and laying out a plan to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, in large part by regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants. The plan also includes actions to help communities prepare for the effects of climate change, as well as measures to promote coöperation with other countries on reducing emissions around the world.

POTUS wiping brow with handkerchief
Climate chief: Obama tells students at Georgetown about a new plan for countering climate change.
smokestacks active at night
Regulatory target: Coal power plants like this one in Texas will be subject to limits on carbon dioxide emissions as part of the Obama administration’s new climate plan.

“It’s a historic plan,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, told reporters after the speech. He said it “goes far beyond what was ever seen” from any other president.

“This announcement is a watershed in the long effort to get the U.S. government to focus on grappling with the climate change problem,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a professor of geosciences at Princeton University.

For Obama, who has been criticized for not acting decisively on climate change (see “Obama Still Needs to Make the Case for Dealing with Climate Change” and “Dear Mr. President: Time to Deal with Climate Change”), today’s speech was his clearest statement yet on the reasons scientists view global warming as a problem. “Science accumulated and reviewed over decades tells us that our planet is changing in ways that will have profound impacts on all of humankind,” he said. Though he acknowledged that no weather event is caused by climate change alone, he said, “We know that in a world that’s warmer than it used to be, all weather events are affected.”

In a memo released shortly after the speech, Obama called on the EPA to issue proposed regulations for new power plants by September 20 and for existing power plants by June 1, 2014. He specifically called for the EPA to “develop approaches that allow the use of market-based instruments, performance standards, and other regulatory flexibilities.” Market-based approaches generally allow trading of credits; for example, a utility might be able to keep a coal plant open while getting credit for reducing emissions with a solar power plant. Economists say this flexibility could keep down the cost of complying with new environmental regulations, but it’s not clear how much authority the EPA has to establish such a system.

Reaction to Obama’s address has been mixed. Some business groups cautioned that the president’s plan could raise energy prices, while environmental groups praised it as providing a clear signal that could encourage the innovation needed to meet long-term goals for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions (see “What to Look for in the President’s Climate Address”).

Keep Reading

Most Popular

A Roomba recorded a woman on the toilet. How did screenshots end up on Facebook?

Robot vacuum companies say your images are safe, but a sprawling global supply chain for data from our devices creates risk.

A startup says it’s begun releasing particles into the atmosphere, in an effort to tweak the climate

Make Sunsets is already attempting to earn revenue for geoengineering, a move likely to provoke widespread criticism.

10 Breakthrough Technologies 2023

Every year, we pick the 10 technologies that matter the most right now. We look for advances that will have a big impact on our lives and break down why they matter.

These exclusive satellite images show that Saudi Arabia’s sci-fi megacity is well underway

Weirdly, any recent work on The Line doesn’t show up on Google Maps. But we got the images anyway.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.