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updated: 6/29/2013 1:56 PM

Obama says climate change is make-or-break issue

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  • President Barack Obama reacts as he jokes Saturday with journalists during his meeting with the African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, unseen, in Johannesburg, South Africa.

      President Barack Obama reacts as he jokes Saturday with journalists during his meeting with the African Union Commission Chair Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, unseen, in Johannesburg, South Africa.
    Associated Press

 
Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama is trying to frame climate change as a make-or-break political issue, urging Americans to vote only for those who will protect the country from environmental harm.

He says people in the United States already are paying a price for climate change, including in lost lives and hundreds of billions of dollars.

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"If you agree with me, I'll need you to act," Obama said in his weekly radio and Internet address. "Remind everyone who represents you, at every level of government, that there is no contradiction between a sound environment and a strong economy -- and that sheltering future generations against the ravages of climate change is a prerequisite for your vote."

In his remarks released Saturday but recorded at the White House before his trip to Africa, Obama is trying to persuade the public to help sell his climate change plan for him.

That plan, released last week, is bypassing Congress after years of efforts to get lawmakers to pass legislation to deal with the issue.

At the core of Obama's plan are new controls on new and existing power plants that emit carbon dioxide, heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming. The program is intended to boost renewable energy production on federal lands, increase efficiency standards and prepare communities to deal with higher temperatures.

None of the measures in Obama's plan requires congressional action.

Republicans and some Democrats have denounced the plan as a job-killing "war on coal," and opponents could try to undercut Obama's plan or hinder it through legal action if Americans don't seem to be on board.

"The question is not whether we need to act. The question is whether we will have the courage to act before it's too late," Obama said.

Obama has also pledged that the U.S. will lead other nations in a "coordinated assault" to reduce pollution. But he acknowledged Saturday in a town hall meeting with young people in Johannesburg that the U.S. and other wealthy countries must shoulder a disproportionate part of the burden.

His proposal to cut off U.S. subsidies for coal-fired power plants overseas, for example, includes exemptions for the poorest countries where no better technology is available.

"The United States cannot do it by itself," Obama said in South Africa. "I expect it's going to be your generation that helps lead this, because if we don't, it's going to be your generation that suffers the most."

In the Republican address, Sen. Pat Roberts of Kansas says there are troubling, unanswered questions about the implementation of Obama's health care law.

"We must put an end to the fear and uncertainty," Roberts says. "Those `bumps' and `glitches' the president talks about? It's a train wreck, folks, and we have to get America out of the way."

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