The Obama administration has proposed cuts of 30 percent to carbon emissions from US power plants by 2030. The move, amid mounting signs of climate change, would let US federal states choose how to meet the goal.
The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled on Monday a plan to trim carbon dioxide exhaust gases emitted by US power plants, notably coal-fired plants, ahead of more United Nations climate talks due in Paris late next year.
Under the so-called Clean Power Plan, President Barack Obama would use executive orders, without congressional approval. A previous bid to set binding cuts died in the Senate, Congress' upper house, in 2010.
'Strongest action ever'
The head of the UN's climate change agency Christiana Figueres said she expected the new power plant rules proposed by the US - the second largest emitter after China - would "spur others in taking concrete action."
The European Union's climate commissioner, Connie Hedegaard, said the proposal was the "strongest action ever taken by the US government to fight climate change."
Announcing the move on Monday, EPA administer Gina McCarthy also portrayed the plan as a cleaner-air drive that would prevent 6,600 premature births and up to 150,000 asthma attacks among children.
"This is not just about disappearing polar bears or melting ice caps. This is about protecting our health and our homes. This is about protecting local economies and jobs," McCarthy said.
On Saturday, President Barack Obama had hinted at the plan by saying "tough choices" were needed to achieve "a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come."
In April, a UN panel of scientists warned again that polluters needed to act urgently to mitigate or avoid worst-case scenarios such as droughts, storms and coastline destruction.
US power plants account for some 40 percent of the nation's emissions of carbon dioxide, the climate change gas generated by burning fossil fuels.
Republicans denounce plan
Lawmakers from the Republican Party, which is friendly with the energy industry, said the Obama administration's plan would raise energy bills for low-income families.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, who represents the coal-producing state Kentucky, said the plan amounted to a "unilateral dismantling of our own economic supremacy."
Under the plan, some US federal states would be allowed to emit more and others less to achieve the overall reduction of 30 percent nationwide. Each would be required to submit planning details to Washington by June 2016.
ipj/pfd (AFP, AP, dpa)
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