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Obama outlines plan to curb climate change

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President Obama Tuesday outlined a sweeping plan to address climate change, setting ambitious goals and timetables for a series of executive actions to reduce greenhouse gas pollution and prepare the nation for the ravages of a warming planet.

The speech delivered at Georgetown University marks the administration's most serious effort to tackle a problem Obama called “the global threat of our time" in a speech last week.

"I am convinced this is the fight America can and will lead in the 21st century," Obama said. "It is the fight America must lead."

Obama also said that he would support the building of the Keystone XL pipeline to transport oil from Canada's tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico only if it's carbon neutral -- and Obama's own State Department has already issued a report finding that it's not, but that report also concludes that blocking the pipeline's construction will have little impact on the climate.

"Our national interest would be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution."

While Obama is planning to accomplish his goals through the use of executive orders, rather than trying to push anything through an intractable Congress, his path forward is still fraught with political risk -- for his own presidency and for many Democrats facing reelection next year.

Many Republicans and representatives of the oil, gas and coal industries are already bashing the president for a plan that, they believe, imposes costly, job-killing burdens on a still-fragile economy.

"That's what they said every time," Obama said Tuesday. "And every time, they've been wrong."

Obama proposed the first limits on carbon pollution from existing power plants and promised to complete pending rules for new plants.

The president will also direct the Environmental Protection Agency to complete standards for new fossil fuel power plants by the end of September.

ABC News' Jonathan Karl noted Tuesday that this is the same president who, last year on the campaign trail, "portrayed himself as a friend of the coal industry and even attacked Mitt Romney for being too tough on coal."

The local branch of the group Americans For Prosperity, funded in large part by oil billionaires Ed and David Koch, released a statement arguing that plan would especially hurt Colorado.

"Colorado is a coal state, whether or not some Coloradans realize it, which also makes President Obama’s plan to use American coal as the climate change scapegoat an attack on a critical part of Colorado’s economy and energy infrastructure," said AFP's Sean Paige.

"The United States is the Saudi Arabia of coal, and turning our backs on this affordable, homegrown energy source, without even giving cleaner coal a fighting chance, is like folding our poker hand with a pair of Aces."

Environmentalists, meanwhile, lauded the president for taking action.

"Carbon pollution from power plants is a huge part of the global warming problem," said Lindsey Wilson, a field organizer with Environment Colorado. "Today President Obama acknowledged this and mapped out a plan for cleaning up this pollution."

The administration will also begin a new round of fuel efficiency standards for heavy-duty trucks to continue improvements already in effect for model years 2014-18.

The plan includes new efficiency targets for appliances and buildings to cut carbon pollution by three billion metric tons cumulatively by 2030, equivalent to half of a full year’s total emissions.

Obama will commit to $7 billion in financing for international climate mitigation and adaptation projects, primarily in developing countries and nations most vulnerable to rising seas and other climate-related threats. But it is not clear now much of that is new money and how much is already committed under existing international aid programs.

The package includes $8 billion in loan guarantees for innovative energy efficiency and fossil fuel projects, including efforts to capture and store carbon dioxide emissions from power plants burning coal and natural gas.

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