Barack Obama is moving full speed ahead with his climate agenda, bypassing Congress by pushing regulatory actions and executive orders.
A crop of regulations at the Environmental Protection Agency intends to restrict pollution from new and existing power plants by implementing new emissions standards. The battle lines are drawn. Democrats and environmentalists are complain about the GOP’s stand against crippling industry, while the GOP maintains that Obama is doing an end-run around Congress.
Obama said on Friday, “Unfortunately, what we’ve seen too often in Congress is that the fossil fuel industries tend to be very influential — let’s put it that way — on the energy committees in Congress and they tend not to be particularly sympathetic to alternative energy strategies.”
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, complained on Obama’s behalf, “He’s doing it with one hand tied behind his back.”
Heather White, executive director of the Environmental Working Group, chimed in, “It’s great that he’s taking this step through his administrative power. Congress is going to be a big challenge, as we know. But the science is clear and people are ready and they’re ready for his leadership.”
But GOP members, concerned that the regulations will cripple the coal industry and raise the price of gas and home energy, shot back. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), chairman of the House’s subcommittee on energy policy, said, “Because it’s very difficult to pass any legislation, they’re doing more by regulatory actions and executive order. To think that [they] are really serious about removing coal from the equation of our energy needs is a big, big stretch.”
Revised draft emission standards for new power plants are due from the Administration in September; new standards for existing plants will be proposed by the EPA next June and implemented in 2015.
Opponents of the new regulations are whistling in the dark that Obama’s new EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, will not be as assiduous in her pro-environmental stance as her predecessor, Lisa Jackson. But Daniel J. Weiss, director of climate strategy for the leftist Center for American Progress, confidently stated, “Lisa Jackson has handed the baton to Gina McCarthy, who will run with it.”
House Republicans set into motion action to limit the administration’s regulatory authority before they left town this month with various bills, including one that gives the Energy Department veto power over environmental rules damaging the U.S. economy. Although the Senate will defeat them, Whitfield said, “I think it’s time we really focused public attention on this.” He wants to have a hearing in September with 13 agencies testifying.
Even if Obama passes his new federal rules, states will not be forced to abide by them until 2016, at which point he will be gone. And there are other obstacles for him, as Phil Wallach, from the Brookings Institution, pointed out: “The more you have these changes coming from executive action and executive interpretations of statutes, you’re going to, on the one hand, get lots of opponents denouncing the changes as sort of ‘Oh, it’s the imperial presidency,’ but more importantly you’re going to have a lot of people who have standing to sue.”
This obviously upsets environmentalists; Melinda Pierce, a deputy director at the Sierra Club, said, “The goal of the opposition to any kind of regulation is to throw sand in the works, to slow it down at every turn.”
Howard Feldman, director of regulatory and scientific affairs for the American Petroleum Institute, noting that much of Obama’s climate plan is being run under the aegis of the Clean Air Act, was clear, saying, “Our position is, the Clean Air Act is not the right tool to be addressing climate issues with.”