by Judith Curry
With the Republicans in majority for both Houses of the 114th Congress, what are the implications for U.S. climate and energy policy?
The coming climate onslaught
Politico has an article The coming climate onslaught. Subtitle: President Obama readies a sweeping list of executive actions. Excerpts:
The Obama administration is set to roll out a series of climate and pollution measures that rivals any president’s environmental actions of the past quarter-century — a reality check for Republicans who think last week’s election gave them a mandate to end what they call the White House’s “War on Coal.”
Tied to court-ordered deadlines, legal mandates and international climate talks, the efforts scheduled for the next two months show that President Barack Obama is prepared to spend the remainder of his term unleashing sweeping executive actions to combat global warming. And incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will have few options for stopping the onslaught, though Republicans may be able to slow pieces of it.
The coming rollout includes a Dec. 1 proposal by EPA to tighten limits on smog-causing ozone, which business groups say could be the costliest federal regulation of all time; a final rule Dec. 19 for clamping down on disposal of power plants’ toxic coal ash; the Jan. 1 start date for a long-debated rule prohibiting states from polluting the air of their downwind neighbors; and a Jan. 8 deadline for issuing a final rule restricting greenhouse gas emissions from future power plants. That last rule is a centerpiece of Obama’s most ambitious environmental effort, the big plan for combating climate change that he announced at Georgetown University in June 2013.
The kicker for Republicans eager to stomp all over the president’s agenda: Congress has little immediate recourse, despite McConnell’s pledges to use “the spending process” to rein in EPA. With so much action rolling through the pipeline, Republicans will have to choose their battles carefully if they want to make headway while proving they can govern.
In an interview after Election Day, McConnell acknowledged that stopping Obama will be difficult, given the president’s veto power. McConnell has also promised a return to regular order, and Republicans probably won’t want to repeat last year’s government shutdown in hopes of forcing the president’s hand.
Christine Todd Whitman, who served as George W. Bush’s first EPA administrator, said the Republicans’ new Senate leaders will at least try to hobble the agency.
“It’s going to get harder for EPA,” she said. “With Jim Inhofe as chair of the Environment and Public Works Committee, I think what they’re going to do is starve the agency.”
Can Congress derail Obama’s climate and energy policies?
From the Washington Post: Congress can derail Obama’s global warming fantasies. Excerpts:
The White House would have us believe that the president is unfazed by the midterm election debacle. There is plenty of coverage of President Obama’s upcoming unilateral actions on immigration and his yawner of an announcement of a non-binding agreement on global warming with the Chinese, but another executive overreach may be about to take place that will do a lot to reinforce voters’ reasons for voting against the Democrats and emphasize the notion that the president doesn’t get it. The New York Times revealed today that the president is about to announce that three billion dollars of U.S. taxpayer money will be given to other countries to help “the world’s poorest adapt to the ravages of climate change.”
The new Republican majorities in the House and Senate could seize on this latest blatant tone-deaf overreach and use it to build serious opposition to the Democrats’ dream of a wealth transfer from America to who knows where. Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) already said the president’s agreement with the Chinese “is the latest example of the president’s crusade against affordable, reliable energy that is already hurting jobs and squeezing middle-class families.” Republicans in the House and Senate are going to be focused on passing the Keystone XL Pipeline, rolling back onerous EPA regulations and increasing American energy security in the 114th Congress – not on helping the president raise Americans’ power bills and sending money we don’t have to foreign lands.
The New Congress and U.S. Energy Policy
A forthcoming event at the George Marshall Institute lists the following energy policy issues for the new Congress to deal with:
* The future of the proposed Keystone pipeline.
* U.S. oil and gas exports.
* Federal subsidies of renewable energy.
* The state of U.S. energy infrastructure.
* Maximizing the benefits of the shale revolution.
* The implications of falling oil prices on policy issues
* Regulatory impediments to energy development
Time has an article GOP Prepares for an energy battle. Excerpts:
Consider that a starting gun on the coming season of energy debates, when everything is likely to be placed once again on the legislative table: pipeline development, oil and gas exports, carbon regulation, renewable energy and drilling on public lands, to name a few issues. Polls show strong support for increased domestic production, and environmentalists are playing defense after a near rout at the ballot box. McConnell, not surprisingly, plans to seize the moment.
Near the top of his to-do list is bringing the Keystone XL pipeline to a vote. Climate activists have made a priority of killing the proposed pipeline from oil sands in Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, but it may soon become their Alamo. With the cooperation of a handful of centrist Democrats, the GOP could have a filibuster-proof majority on the question, forcing President Obama to approve or veto the project. Either way, he will be forced to show his hand on a question about which he’s been coy to date. “They can force the President to have to make some hard decisions,” says Philip Wallach, a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution. Obama’s willingness to go to the mat on the issue is anything but certain. “I’ve always felt the President was keeping Keystone around as something he could trade for something else,” Wallach says.
One item the President may trade for is continued support for renewable-energy subsidies like the solar-investment and wind-production tax credits, key components of his “all of the above” energy strategy. Those incentives–which help stimulate demand for pricey home solar panels, for instance–remain a lifeline for America’s nascent renewables industry. “Our energy sector is booming, and I’m happy to engage Republicans with additional ideas for how we can enhance that,” Obama said at a press conference after Election Day.
Ezra Klein has a good article: How much does the Keystone pipeline really matter?
Senate EPW Committee
From the Time article:
The return of Oklahoma Republican Jim Inhofe to chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will also be a factor. A longtime bogeyman for environmentalists, he has made himself the face of opposition to taking action on climate change. Like McConnell, who campaigned as a champion of the Kentucky coal industry, Inhofe has in his sights recent Environmental Protection Agency rules that limit greenhouse-gas emissions. “Pretty much no Republican officeholder has supported the clean-power plan the way it’s been proposed,” Wallach says. “They’re going to gear up for a pretty bruising fight on that.”
The putative Chair of the Senate EPW Committee James Inhofe has written a 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. I haven’t read the book, but it seems to play to conspiracy theory and confident idiot memes. However, if we are going to label politicians as confident idiots on the global warming issue, how about:
John Kerry: “climate change” is perhaps “the world’s most fearsome weapon of mass destruction.”
Hillary Clinton: climate change is “the most consequential, urgent, sweeping collection of challenges we face as a nation and a world.”
Far more interesting and insightful is the Senate EPW Minority Report (from the Republicans) Critical Thinking on Climate Change, recently updated last December (a previous version was discussed at CE [here].) The document doesn’t pay much attention to the IPCC, but rather to U.S. politicians, the U.S. mainstream media, U.S. assessment reports, and Congressional testimony.
The format of the document is to lay out Predictions, Claims, The Latest Science, and Questions for Critical Thinking. About half of the Questions are good ones; the others are either not very relevant or ‘gotcha’ type questions. But my point is that this is not a document written by ‘confident idiots’ but rather by politicians who raise legitimate political concerns (and a few scientific concerns also).
Well the climate change issue certainly seems to be front and center of US political debate, although there are arguably more urgent issues facing the US and the world. It will be interesting to see how this will play out, and whether Obama can manage both policy changes at home and influencing the UNFCCC deliberations.
My main hope is that the 114th Congress will become more functional, and actually put legislation on the President’s desk so that some progress can perhaps be made on some of the energy and climate issues where robust policy options have been identified that make sense independently of whether or not climate change is an urgent or dangerous problem.