power plantsPresident Obama yesterday unveiled what is the centre piece of his climate legacy, as his long awaited Clean Power Plan was outlined in a ceremony at the White House.

It is being seen as by far the most significant step by any President to address climate change. In a video preview, Obama called the Clean Power Plan “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

In the speech itself Obama said: “Climate change is no longer about protecting the world for our children and grandchildren, it is about the reality that we are living with right now. We are the first generation to feel the impact of climate change and the last generation that can do something about it.”

Michael Brune, a board member of Oil Change International and the Executive Director of the Sierra Club, who was at the White House to witness the speech, said it was “the most significant single action any President has ever taken to tackle the most serious threat to the health of our families.” Other environmentalists called the new rules “a game-changer”.

Obama’s new plan is intended to speed up the closure of America’s ageing coal-fired power plants. It requires the plants – which are responsible for a third of American’s carbon dioxide – to cut their emissions to 32 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The new rules could double the closure of coal plants by 2040.

Obama’s plans are not only important on the domestic front but also, as the Times puts it, they send a clear signal to “the international community that America is serious about reining in its contribution to the global problem of greenhouse gas pollution.”

Coming just months before the crunch talks in Paris, this can only help the push for a landmark internationally binding agreement to limit carbon dioxide.

There are critics of Obama’s plan, though, from both sides of the debate. The Republicans predictably attacked what they see as President Obama’s “war on coal.”

Others dismissed Obama’s Plan as not being ambitious enough. “Obama’s plan is significant, but it’s not bold,” wrote the meteorologist, Eric Holthaus on Slate, adding: “to imply that Monday’s nudge toward cleaner electricity will bring about a bold new era in American climate leadership is disingenuous.”

He points out that a previous version of the targets, announced last year, would have required states to begin implementing changes to their power-producing mix in 2020. The final rule, announced yesterday, purely gives states an extra two years, until 2022.

Others are equally cautious. The carbon regulations are a “bit stronger than the toothless draft rules he unveiled last year” wrote Michael Grunwald on Politico, “That doesn’t mean they’ll be strong”.

What is interesting, though, is that although Obama’s main target was coal, the Plan also has severe ramifications for America’s shale gas industry.

As the Financial Times pointed out: the “US shale gas is the unexpected loser from President Barack Obama’s climate plan, as the White House abandons its previous enthusiasm for natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal.”

According to the paper, the US fracking industry was left “reeling” yesterday by this sudden reversal, as the Obama Administration backed renewables over so-called “clean gas”.

“I’m confused and disappointed,” said Marty Durbin, head of America’s Natural Gas Alliance, a trade group for gas producers. He accused the White House of “ignoring” the importance of gas in the market.

As the pundits continue to debate what the Plan will mean, if it begins to end the myth that gas is a “clean” fuel, that can only be a great – although long overdue – step to helping address climate change.