The Obama administration is likely to try to sidestep Congress on its upcoming environmental agenda, using existing rules rather than making new ones and using executive power to try to reduce greenhouse gases. So reports Reuters.
White House spokesman Jay Carney declined to define specific policies but said not to expect bold new moves. Instead, the White House is expected to use its current strategy for regulating and cutting carbon emissions by major polluters. The Obama administration’s climate initiatives may be revealed in the president’s State of the Union address Feb. 12.
Environmentalists have criticized Obama for being too timid on regulating polluters. The White House, for its part, cites its emissions standards for new power plants. It also helped set stringent fuel efficiency standards for new automobiles.
Critics say the administration has its work cut out for it if it is to take substantive environmental steps at the same time continues to support aggressive drilling and exploration – particularly with regard to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, for natural gas, a process that has already prompted protests because people are concerned it pollutes the groundwater. And yet increased natural gas reserves can lower emissions because it reduces the reliance on coal power.
With the departures of Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, and Secretary of Energy Steven Chu expected to leave soon, Obama must quickly name a whole new team to oversee energy policy. Whoever is appointed will have to follow a path already laid out by the president, says Carol Browner, Obama’s former climate and energy czar.
Among those policies, the EPA may soon use its authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate heat-trapping greenhouse gases, according to industry analysts. This Spring, the EPA is likely to have finished carbon emission standards for the construction of new power plants that will all but stop any new coal-fired facilities from being built. The next step is to create standards for coal plants already in existence, a move that is expected to bring about lawsuits from coal companies. Currently, coal-fired facilities are responsible for about 40% of all greenhouse gases in the U.S.
Dina Kruger, the EPA’s former director of the Climate Change Division, said Obama will probably use the New Source Performance Standard (NSPS) for existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. The Act limits the rate at which a facility can emit using the best available emission controls. According to a settlement reached in 2010 with environmentalists, the agency must produce greenhouse gas standards for existing sources. It has not yet given a date by which that will happen.
Republicans would not be able to curb legislatively any rules the EPA proposes, according to Ed Whitfield, a Kentucky Republican who chairs of the House subcommittee on energy and environment. Recent court decisions that have touched on the legal basis for the EPA to regulate carbon have mostly come down in its favor.
That may embolden the EPA to unroll regulations that are stronger than anything Jackson had proposed, says David Doniger, policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Air Program.
Green groups want the agency to regulate carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions from other sources like oil refineries and methane released by fracking, and they may sue to bring that about.
In fact the number of lawsuits against the agency, from both environmentalists and the energy industry, is expected to rise over Obama’s second term, says Christopher Guith, vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Energy Institute.
Obama could use executive orders to direct vast federal agencies to adopt measures that could limit their own energy use, a significant reduction of emissions, says Browner, who was Clinton’s EPA administrator.
A 2009 executive order, for instance, required federal agencies to come up with sustainable energy plans that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions, energy, water and waste. Moreover, the Department of Energy has released 16 new or updated energy efficiency standards for commercial buildings, industrial facilities and home appliances that would cut carbon dioxide emissions by 6.5 billion tons by 2030.
In the end, market forces, rather than regulations, may have the biggest impact on carbon emissions going forward, as the abundance of natural gas results in it displacing coal as an energy source, said Nikos Tsafos, analyst at PFC Energy in Washington. One doesn’t need new policies to increase natural gas use when it comes to power generation, Tsafos said.
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