President Obama revisits the Clean Air Act

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President Obama’s  plan, unveiled Tuesday at Georgetown University in Washington, will set off legal and political battles that will last years.

But experts say that if all goes well for the president, the plan could potentially meet his stated goal of an overall emissions reduction of 17 percent by 2020, compared with the level in 2005.

Already, glaciers are melting, heat waves and heavy rains are increasing, the food system is under stress and the sea is rising. The best that can be hoped for, scientists say, is to limit the damage, or slow it enough to provide society more time to adjust.

The president recognized that in his plan, calling for more steps to help the country prepare, from strengthening sea walls to hardening the electrical grid.

The heart of Mr. Obama’s plan, however, is lowering the country’s emissions using administrative remedies, an effort to sidestep a recalcitrant Congress. The success of that goal will depend on how far the administration is able to stretch the boundaries of the Clean Air Act, signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon in 1970.

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