I spoke last week on a panel at the spring meeting of the Dartmouth Lawyer’s Association in Washington, D.C. My panel discussed what to expect in the Obama administration’s second term, and my topic was (as you would expect) environmental policy. A copy of my presentation can be found here.
As I was preparing for the panel, it struck me that several themes had emerged from Obama’s first term. Most importantly, we saw the emergence of the intersection of energy and environmental policy. EPA, the Department of Energy and the Department of Interior all focused much of their attention on issues concerning the extraction, production, generation, transport and use of energy. This reflects the growing importance of climate change as the center regulatory attention. EPA is having a more significant impact on energy policy than ever before.
The second theme was the Administration’s clear rejection of the Bush Administration’s environmental policies. The Obama team quickly distanced itself from controversial decisions of the prior administration. For example, shortly after taking office, Lisa Jackson, former EPA administrator, announced that the ozone national ambient air quality standard adopted by her predecessor was unlawful. Moreover, in contrast to the Bush years, EPA’s environmental policy agenda has been driven by environmental groups. These groups repeatedly sued the Agency for allegedly not meeting some mandatory duty to issue a regulation. EPA, in turn, has quickly settled these cases, agreeing to aggressive deadlines for taking action. In many instances, EPA has handed the reigns to set its priorities to environmental groups, and the Agency’s relationship with these groups is much cozier than it had been over the previous eight years.
The last theme was a marked slowdown before the 2012 election in issuing new rules. The revision to the ozone NAAQS which Jackson had found unlawful as put on hold by the White House. The White House also punted on a final decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. The slowdown didn’t last long, however, as several new rules were issued in December 2012.
I believe that these themes set the stage for the second term. New legislation is unlikely, as Congress grapples with immigration and the budget issues. But EPA and the other departments with environmental policy responsibilities will continue issuing new rules that will impact and shape energy policy for years to come.