This announcement will be closely watched by leaders across the globe, as up to this point the United States has been the biggest obstacle to transnational climate action.
Infamously, the U.S. Senate refused to ratify the Kyoto Protocol in 1997. At the time, President Bill Clinton and Vice-President Al Gore gave public support to the agreement, which would require its member countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 5.2 percent by 2012. It was later ratified by 127 countries, with the U.S. abstaining. Clinton signed the bill but never even submitted it to the Senate, which promised to kill it before it ever saw the light of day. Then in 2001, President George W. Bush rejected Kyoto outright. President Obama allowed the treaty to expire in 2012.
But if so many member nations supported Kyoto, why the big deal over the United States? Because, in many ways, the United States is still the biggest deal on the planet. The U.S. may no longer be the single largest polluting nation (China usurped that title in 2007), but it is still the second largest. And how the United States votes on international treaties affects everybody.
Basically, America is “the big get,” and if Obama proposes strong enough EPA regulations on June 2, it will mark a significant new chapter in the battle against climate change. As America goes, so goes the world.
“If the standard is really stringent, that will make a difference in the domestic debate in China,” says Qi Ye, director of the Climate Policy Center at Tsinghua University in China.
Günter Hörmandinger, environmental counselor to the European Union delegation in Washington, has voiced similar expectation: “We’re very excited to see the new rule on existing power plants. We see this as absolutely the backbone of U.S. climate strategy.”
President Obama is introducing this new regulation by utilizing the executive powers granted to him by the 1970 Clean Air Act. The President failed to pass a climate change bill during his first term due to a recalcitrant Congress, and since then the majority of Republicans have only dug their heels in deeper.
No matter how stringent the new EPA rules, analysts predict that the the coal industry will fight it tooth and nail. Republicans will stick to the party line, and offer revisions if they can’t kill it outright. The rest of us will just have to wait and see.