Under the new rules, power plants will have to curb emissions 30 percent by 2030. Emission levels from 2005 will serve as the baseline, so pollution sources will be able to count cuts made between 2005 and 2014 toward their progress.
Like most major EPA regulations, the rules offer broad standards more than detailed governance -- with states given the flexibility of choosing how they will work to bring down emissions enough to meet federal benchmarks.
States could, for example, start or join a cap and trade program, the market-powered conservation strategy which sets limits on emissions and then allows polluters to purchase and sell emissions permits. Other possibilities for lowering emissions include bolstering renewable energy efforts and improving efficiency standards.
Previous EPA emissions policy has focused on air quality and mostly targeted new power sources and motor vehicles. But the new proposal is the first to target the carbon emissions of existing power plants. And it's a proposal the New York Times called "one of the strongest actions ever taken by the United States government to fight climate change."
In a video address to the nation, released by the White House early Monday, President Obama defended the new proposal as a way to fight climate change and improve public health.
"In America, we don't have to choose between the health of our economy and the health of our children," the president said. "As President, and as a parent, I refuse to condemn our children to a planet that's beyond fixing."
"But a low-carbon, clean energy economy can be an engine of growth for decades to come," Obama added. "America will build that engine."
The rule proposal is another attempt by President Obama to address public policy issues without navigating a bitter and divided Congress. But the proposal will likely face opposition from Republicans both over the airwaves and in court, who are sure to characterize the move as a "job killer."
Both the president and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy proactively defended against such claims in their Monday morning announcements.
"All this means more jobs, not less," McCarthy said at a press conference this morning. "We'll need tens of thousands of American workers -- in construction, transmission, and more -- to make cleaner power a reality."