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Obama orders crackdown on carbon

US president Barack Obama has ordered his administration to end the practice of coal-fired power plants dumping unlimited carbon pollution into the Earth's atmosphere as he moved to deliver on a major priority he laid out in his first presidential campaign.

As he ordered regulators to crack down with the first-ever federal regulations to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing and new electricity generating stations, Obama also said the Keystone XL pipeline project from Canadian tar sands to Texas refineries should only be approved if it doesn't "significantly exacerbate" carbon pollution.

Environmental activists have demanded that the administration not approve the pipeline, which would carry oil from Canadian tar sands to the Texas Gulf Coast.

Speaking on the politically charged topic of climate change at Georgetown University in Washington, Obama told students: "I refuse to condemn your generation and future generations to a planet that's beyond fixing."

Even before Obama unveiled his plan, Republican critics in Congress were lambasting it as a job-killer that would threaten the economic recovery.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said imposing carbon rules on power plants amounts to a national energy tax. "Will the president explain the massive costs to American jobs? Will the president explain how low-income Americans would pay for their new, higher utility bills?" he said.

Obama dismissed the critics, saying: "That's what they said every time. And every time, they've been wrong."

American public opinion about climate change has proven a major barrier to addressing the issue. The Pew Research centre released polling data that showed just four-in-10 people say the warming of the planet poses a major threat to the US. Pew said the finding makes "Americans among the least concerned about this issue of the 39 publics surveyed, along with people in China, Czech Republic, Jordan, Israel, Egypt and Pakistan".

Obama raised climate change as a key second-term issue in his inaugural address in January, but has offered few details since. In his February State of the Union policy speech, he issued an ultimatum to lawmakers: "If Congress won't act soon to protect future generations, I will."

Obama also called for an end to US support for public financing for new coal-fired plants overseas, with exemptions in the poorest nations as long as the cleanest technology available is being used. He also pledged to work with major polluting countries like China and India to curb emissions.

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