Campaign season came to a close last Tuesday with President Obama winning a decisive electoral victory, Senate Democrats increasing their margin in the upper chamber, and Republicans maintaining control over the House of Representatives.
With the overall makeup of the Executive and Legislative branches of government remaining the same, we can expect to see continued partisan gridlock on some issues as leaders from both parties attempt to move toward consensus on others. The election will impact key energy and environmental issues in both the lame duck session of the 112th Congress and in the 113th Congress next year, as well as the approach and direction the administration takes on the same issues.
During his victory speech late Tuesday night, President Obama said that he wants to build a country that is not “threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.” Additionally, a poll released last week by the American Council on Renewable Energy and the Advanced Energy Economy Ohio Institute concluded that the majority of voters in the swing states Iowa, Colorado, Virginia, and Ohio cited energy as a very important issue in determining who to vote for in the presidential election, though the poll found that voters saw President Obama’s stance as slightly more appealing than Governor Romney’s.
President Obama’s reelection green lights a series of Environmental Protection Agency air pollution and greenhouse gas rules. After holding tight during the height of the campaign season, the Environmental Protection Agency is expected to begin releasing its queue of pending air pollution regulations in the coming weeks and months. The agency is under court-ordered deadlines to finalize particulate matter standards by December 14 and air toxics standards for cement kilns by December 20. Additionally, the agency sent a proposed final rule to revise mercury and air toxics standards for new power plants to the White House for interagency review last week; the agency is on track to issue a final rule by March. Final air toxics standards for boilers are also expected to be released shortly – the Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing the final standards for boilers and incinerators since May 17 – and proposed Tier 3 vehicle and gasoline standards to lower sulfur content are overdue. New source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants are expected to be finalized next year, and more aggressive regulation of coal ash is also on the near-term agenda, as is a tougher national ambient air quality standard for ozone, and a myriad of other issues. House Republicans are likely to continue pushing back against Environmental Protection Administration regulations, but the divided Congress most likely means that opponents of agency action will be unable to pass legislation restraining the agency’s regulatory authority.
Significant forward movement on energy and climate issues may need to wait until after the lame duck session is over, however, as Congress and the administration will be focused on addressing the critical issue of the fiscal cliff. Though President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) have talked of compromise, both have drawn lines in the sand that may make reaching an agreement difficult. Energy items that may be wrapped into a negotiated fiscal cliff agreement include the production tax credit, targeted energy efficiency language, the energy title of the Farm Bill, and the Navy’s use of biofuels as part of Defense Reauthorization.