Sunday, November 11, 2012

Climate Change in a Second Obama Administration

I see a good deal of optimism expressed on the web about what Obama might be able to accomplish in various policy arenas during his second term. Frankly, I'm not persuaded that the political dynamics in the country have changed enough to make much difference on particular issues, including climate change. The Republicans still have a solid majority in the House; and the Democratic majority in the Senate still is not sufficient to overcome the de facto super-majority vote requirement based on the threat of filibuster. I don't see any climate deniers in Congress becoming climate believers. And I don't see any reason to believe that Republicans will be willing to compromise more (except perhaps on immigration) having failed in their mission to make Obama a single-term president through a policy of perfect noncooperation.

The only hope for change in Republican obstructionism on climate policy would be pressure from Republican state governors, like Chris Christie, who may finally be realizing that their states stand to bear massive costs from inaction (although former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger recognized that fact many years ago, to no avail). And not all Republican governors are as pragmatic as Christie. Wing-nuts like Rick Scott in Florida probably wouldn't accept the reality of climate change even if the sea rose above their ankles in their governors' mansions.

Meanwhile, I don't see Obama making a major push for a new climate initiative during his next half-term in office (which is really all the time he has before becoming a lame duck). He doesn't have to worry about another election, but the president is probably no more likely to expend precious political capital on climate change than he was during the first term, when he quiescently allowed a climate law to die in the Senate after passage in the House. Instead, I see him focusing on issues that even his base considers more pressing, including (1) avoidance of the fiscal cliff, (2) immigration, (3) adjustments to and implementation of his health care initiative (on which he clearly believes his historical reputation hinges), and (4) filling likely openings on the US Supreme Court.

If I'm right, then climate change in the second Obama Administration will continue to be relegated to the administrative process, in the hands of the EPA. The main problem there is that the Clean Air Act (CAA) remains a relatively poor vehicle for making domestic climate policy; and the courts could soon overturn one or more of EPA's current batch of climate regulations under that statute (particularly the "tailoring" rule under which EPA tailors the language of the Act so as to be able to regulate fewer sources of CO2 and other greenhouse gases). If they do, then climate regulation under the CAA could become untenable (because of the very high administrative and compliance costs, if EPA had to regulate thousands of additional, relatively minor, sources in accordance with the statute).

In short, as much as I'd like to see movement on the adoption and implementation of an effective national climate policy, I just don't see it happening anytime soon. Am I overly pessimistic?

No comments:

Post a Comment

I actively moderate comments for spam, advertisements, and abusive or offensive language.