This summer, the Obama administration will unveil efforts to curb greenhouse-gas emissions from a variety of sources, including airplanes, trucks, and power plants – all a part of an ambitious climate agenda described by the president as essential to his legacy.
As early as Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce plans to impose regulations on carbon emissions from airlines, followed by the drafting of rules to cut emissions from big trucks. In the coming weeks, the EPA will also set rules aimed at reducing methane emissions from oil and natural gas operation. These will be joined in August by three additional regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions from the nation's power plants.
The proposals represent the biggest climate push by the administration since 2009, when the House passed a national cap-and-trade system proposed by the White House aimed at reducing carbon emissions. The proposal was defeated in the Senate in 2010.
A hotly-contested issue for years, the climate change fight is expected to continue. Nearly all Republicans – and some Democrats representing states reliant on fossil fuels and the industry – say that the new agenda pushes the envelope beyond the boundary of the law, usurping congressional authority on the basis of ideology.
Supporters of the administration's efforts, however, argue that the agenda is backed by existing law. A 2007 Supreme Court decision compelled the EPA to regulate emissions if the agency found they endangered public health and welfare – which was done in 2009 – and the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday dismissed a lawsuit by the nation's largest coal companies and fourteen coal-producing states that attempted to block the administration's policies.
There is also much debate as to what impacts new regulations will have on the American economy. Conservatives like Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, agree that “hen you're regulating as much of the economy as [Obama] is attempting to regulate by executive order, that's clearly an overreach.”
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has taken a different tone in the countless speeches she has made since the agency first proposed the rule for power plants just over a year ago, focusing on what McCarthy describes as the positive economic impact of new regulation.
“Strategies to reduce carbon can double as investments that return value for your operations as they evolve over time,” McCarthy told an audience of energy executives at a conference in Houston in late April.
Susan Dudley, a top regulatory official during the George W. Bush administration, looks at the issue with a sense of practicality.
“There is no question that regulations are shifting supply and demand curves, so they are increasing costs,” said Dudley, “Some of those costs are encouraging cleaner alternatives; sometimes they’re shifting things to other countries. Fully understanding the costs and benefits is really challenging.”
The administration hopes to push the plan no later than this summer, in hopes of completing it before December's United Nations summit on climate change, where world leaders will convene on whether to form a global accord on slashing carbon emissions. The EPA agenda contains everything Obama plans to offer as the United States' actions to address climate change.
The summer timing also takes into account that once the new EPA rules go into effect, states will have a year to submit plans while courts decide lawsuits challenging the regulations.
Opponents of the regulatory efforts are already making moves to block them – Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is asking governors across the nation to refuse to submit their plans – and the Obama administration will do everything it can to ensure that its officials oversee the process instead of turning it over to the next president, lest it be a candidate who opposes the climate agenda altogether.
Photo Source: Reuters