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Obama poised to 'lead global efforts' to combat climate crisis

One of the weekend's big political stories turned out to be a heads-up on an announcement that won't happen until tomorrow.

President Obama said Saturday that he would make a major speech on Tuesday to unveil his second-term plan to curb the causes and effects of climate change, a plan expected to include limits on carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

"This Tuesday, I'll lay out my vision for where I believe we need to go -- a national plan to reduce carbon pollution, prepare our country for the impacts of climate change, and lead global efforts to fight it," Mr. Obama said in a video released by the White House. "This is a serious challenge -- but it's one uniquely suited to America's strengths."

We'll have to wait until tomorrow for many of the key details, but multiple reports confirm that Obama intends to launch a sweeping new policy, including limits on emissions from existing power plants.

Won't congressional Republicans balk? They will, but lawmakers won't have a veto power over key aspects of the White House plan -- the Supreme Court has already ruled that the president has the power to regulate carbon emissions through his executive authority under the Clean Air Act. Obama can, in other words, cap power plants' carbon emissions whether Congress likes it or not.

In his State of the Union address in February, the president vowed, "[I]f Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will." He apparently wasn't bluffing.

The reactions from many of the key players on Capitol Hill were about what you'd expect, but there was one senator in particular whose comments are worth keeping in mind.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said President Obama's upcoming plan to impose new greenhouse gas regulations could create traction for carbon tax proposals that currently lack political support in Congress.

"There is no chance right now, but that chance can change dramatically if the president takes strong action," Whitehouse said in an interview that aired Sunday on Platts Energy Week TV.

The liberal Democrat, in the interview taped last week, said Obama's plan "could be a political game-changer to open the door to a more comprehensive solution."

I think Whitehouse is right, and it's an angle worth watching. What he's arguing here is that there's been no real movement of late on combating the climate crisis, with lawmakers unwilling or unable to act, and industries seeing no need to sit at a negotiating table by themselves. Once the president takes meaningful action -- the kind of steps he's expected to announce tomorrow -- it will not only represent a major shift in domestic policy, it's also the kind of move that will encourage all of the stakeholders to consider a comprehensive approach to the problem.

Won't Republicans continue to treat climate science as a giant conspiracy they refuse to take seriously? Almost certainly yes, but that's one of the aspects of Obama's shift that matters so much politically -- it tells the GOP that the we're going to address this problem one way or the other. They can either work constructively on a more market-based remedy -- Republicans widely supported a cap-and-trade system as recently as 2008 -- or they can let Obama impose solutions they find offensive.

This discussion starts anew tomorrow with the president's speech at Georgetown, scheduled to begin at 1:35 p.m. eastern.