By: Nick Eberhart
President Obama gave more attention to climate change during his 2013 Inaugural Address than he did to any other issue. The President declared that not acting on climate change “would betray our children and future generations” and even challenged those who deny the role that human activity has in this issue. While only around half of the US population believes that climate change is driven by humans, a 2010 Stanford study shows that this number jumps to 97% among active climate scientists. In both his Inaugural Address and last week’s State of the Union Speech, President Obama demonstrated that the administration agrees with these climatologists.
The State of the Union Address last Tuesday firmly backed up the President’s Inaugural Address and laid out the administration’s approach to reach a solution on the issue of climate change. The president urged “this Congress to pursue a bipartisan, market-based solution to climate change” but added cialis sale that if Congress fails, then his administration will take executive actions. President Obama did not outline the specifics of either the market-based approaches or the executive actions, but it is likely that these two routes will be similar to past efforts. Namely, market-based approaches include such policies as a cap-and-trade program or carbon tax. The executive actions that could be taken by the administration and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will come in the form of increased efficiency standards for consumer goods or tighter emissions standards on current power plants.
While a bipartisan market-based approach to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is desirable, it is also overly optimistic in the current political climate. Cap-and-trade legislation would set a limit on emissions and create a market for trading carbon emission allowances. Presidential candidate John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced a cap and trade bill, but this initiative, along with another introduced in 2012, failed to pass. With debates looming over immigration, gun control, and the fast approaching sequester, a bipartisan effort in Congress to tackle climate change will likely remain out of reach for the foreseeable future.
The other options, which the president directly addressed, are executive actions and tightened regulation by the EPA. Whereas a bipartisan legislative action remains elusive, the administration has already achieved some victories in tightening regulations during the president’s first term. New fuel efficiency standards adopted by the administration and supported by automakers will require an average fuel economy of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. A more potent approach to cutting carbon dioxide emissions, however, would be the regulation of emissions produced by existing power plants.
In 2012, the EPA introduced new regulations on newly constructed power plants that limit emissions to 1,000 pounds per megawatt-hour. While this regulation set up huge challenges for new coal-fired plants, many environmental groups feel that a more effective step would be the regulation of all existing coal-fired plants. A June 2012 ruling by the US Court of Appeals determined that the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gas emissions if found harmful to human health, but another later ruling struck down their proposed interstate regulations, leaving the future of regulation of older plants slightly unclear.
What remains clear, at least judging by recent proclamations, is that the administration intends to make a dent in climate change during President Obama’s second term. The extent of these changes will be dependent on the level of bipartisanship effort in Congress and the willingness of the White House to lead on these issues. Depending on political will and willingness from the executive branch, these reductions can come from tradable permits approved by Congress, tighter regulations on existing coal-fired power plants, or from the increased use of natural gas in the near future.
These changes, however, will come with political cost and great pressure from multiple sides including environmental groups and deniers of climate change. On one hand, the President will face environmental groups that feel the use of natural gas fracturing and further exploration of oil reserves are counterproductive measures. On the other, the President is also likely to face heavy backlash from Republicans who see greenhouse gas reductions as unfriendly to economic growth. Marco Rubio’s response to the State of the Union included only one mention of climate change when he shared his belief that “no matter how many job-killing laws we pass, our government can’t control the weather”. Opposition from Republicans, other pressing issues, and a balanced concern for economic recovery will all constrain the Obama administration’s chosen routes to reduce climate emissions, but many policy options remain available. Whether or not the administration is willing to make this a central issue will be the deciding factor in
the eventual success and viability of cutting greenhouse emissions.