That higher energy use leads to greater greenhouse gas emissions, an increase of "18.7 million metric tons (20 million tons) C02 ... per year when compared to an equal amount of U.S. average crudes," the EPA said.
The Obama administration created regulations for newly built coal plants during the president's first term. On Tuesday, he issued directives requiring the EPA to establish carbon pollution standards for plants that are already active.
The administration is not laying out new standards on its own. Instead, it plans to work with industry, states, labor and other interest groups to develop them. Obama directed the EPA to come up with a detailed draft proposal by June 2014 and a finalized version one year later.
Environmental groups have been calling on Obama to issue such regulations on coal plants, the largest source of carbon emissions in the United States.
Obama argued that the benefits of reduced carbon emissions will far outweigh the costs of implementing new rules. Critics have said new regulations could damage the economy. Construction of new coal plants has slowed in part due to EPA regulations.
"The impact could be economic havoc," Luke Popovich, a spokesman for the National Mining Association, which represents the coal industry, told CNNMoney earlier this year.
Coal is used to produce about 40% of the nation's electricity.
Hal Quinn, president and chief executive of the National Mining Association, told Congress last week that U.S. exports of coal are becoming an increasingly large share of the economy. Last year, he said, exports added $16.6 billion to the economy and supported 168,430 jobs.
While the administration has not given a cost-benefit analysis of its new plan, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a large environmental action group, estimates it would cost $4 billion to comply with new regulations on coal power plants, but the economy would see anywhere from $25 to $60 billion in benefits.
A large part of the benefit comes from reduced health care costs. Carbon pollution is known for contributing to higher rates of asthma, as well as other possible illnesses.
Republican reaction was swift with the GOP's political arm in Virginia rolling out its claim of Obama's "war on coal." As part of the gubernatorial campaign, it quickly released a "robo call" initiative in the southwestern part of the state describing Democratic support for "job-killing policies."
Frustration with Obama
Many environmentalists will likely embrace the president's proposals on climate change even though he pushed through sharp cuts in car and truck emissions during his first term.
Activists have expressed frustration with the administration in the past, saying Obama hasn't worked with a strong sense of urgency on the issue since taking office even though he pushed forward a sweeping plan to reduce car emissions and fuel use.
While the idea of long-term climate change is a controversial notion politically, it's accepted as fact by most researchers and Obama.
A March poll from Gallup indicated nearly half -- 47% -- of Americans think the U.S. government is doing too little to protect the environment, while 35% said the government was doing the right amount and 16% said it was doing too much.
The president offered renewed hope to the environmental community -- but fears among the coal mining industry and concerns among climate change skeptics -- in his inauguration speech and State of the Union address this year.
He robustly signaled he would do more to combat climate change during his second term. And again last week, during a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, Obama urged countries to work together to fight the "global threat of our time."