Q: What is the political reaction to the president's plan?
A: Obama cited global warming as top priority in his first presidential campaign and he suffered a major defeat in the Senate when a climate bill was withdrawn without a vote. The president largely ignored the issue during his campaign for re-election in 2012, but mentioned it on election night and recommitted to fight climate change at the start of his second term. Environmental activists have been irked that Obama's high-minded goals never materialized into a comprehensive plan.
Republicans quickly dismissed the plan announced Tuesday as a "war on coal" and jobs. "It's tantamount to kicking the ladder out from beneath the feet of many Americans struggling in today's economy," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, a major coal-producing state.
Environmental groups offered a mix of praise and wariness that Obama would follow through on his ambitious goals. "People are happy that the president is finally staking out ownership of this important issue. That enhances the idea that something will get done," said Frank O'Donnell, executive director of the advocacy group Clean Air Watch.
Bill Snape of the Center for Biological Diversity said Obama's proposal "isn't big enough, doesn't move fast enough to match the terrifying magnitude of the climate crisis."
Q: What's the industry's reaction?
A. Nick Akins, CEO of Ohio-based American Electric Power, one of the nation's largest utilities, said in an interview Tuesday that as long as utilities like his are given enough time to transition to a cleaner fleet of power plants, Obama's plan can be carried out "without a major impact to customers or the economy."
Tom Kuhn, president of the Edison Electric Institute, which represents electric power companies, said officials look forward to working with the administration as it develops the plan, along with members of Congress and the states, "which will play a critical role."
Q: What about the Keystone XL Pipeline?
A: In a surprise move, Obama offered a rare insight into his deliberations on Keystone XL, a proposed oil pipeline from Canada to Texas Gulf Coast refineries that has sparked an intense fight between environmental activists and energy producers. The White House has insisted that the State Department is making the decision independently, but Obama said Tuesday he's instructing the department to approve it only if the project won't increase overall net emissions of greenhouse gases. "Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution," Obama said.
Obama's remarks appeared designed to reassure environmentalists, but they also could indicate an easing of the way for the pipeline, if the carbon standard is met, as pipeline supporters argue.
"The almost five-year review of the project has already repeatedly found that these criteria are satisfied," said Russ Girling, president and CEO of TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that has proposed the pipeline.
But Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow at the liberal leaning Center for American Progress, said that "for the first time, the president has set a do-no-climate harm standard before he approves the Keystone XL pipeline. That will be difficult standard to meet."
Associated Press writer Jonathan Fahey in New York contributed to this report.
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