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Midterm Election Results and the Fate of U.S. Environmental Policy

What do the election results mean for environmental policy?What do the Republican gains in Congress mean for the nations energy and environment policy? The fate of US environmental policy is tied to the fate of President Obama.

If the next two years are anything like the past two years, Republicans will resist the President’s agenda on energy and the environment.

In the absence of a working legislature, many will look to regulation as a viable avenue to advance the environmental agenda. However, the Tea Party candidates fiercely oppose government regulation and some Republicans have made it clear that they will do everything they can to limit the power of government agencies like the EPA.

Republican control of the House of Representatives means that through annual agency funding bills, they can restrict the funding required to administer regulations. This includes the EPA’s efforts to regulate CO2, ozone and other elements of the Clean Air Act.

Republicans also want the EPA to justify the costs associated with regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Some Republicans even want to reduce regulations governing the use of leaded aviation fuels, or airborne mercury pollution.

Although the new Republican Congress may want to expand nuclear power and offshore oil drilling, they also want to avoid passing any legislation that President Obama can claim as an accomplishment in 2012.

Republicans may choose to spend the next two years deriding the President and the Democrats. Tea Party Republicans can be expected to bolster the Republicans’ anti-science stance on climate change and many of the new Republicans reflexively oppose the President.

Although the new Congress will not be installed until next January, some Republican leaders have already started gathering evidence for sweeping investigations of the President’s environmental agenda. Congressional committees will be turned into investigating committees and members of the Obama administration can expect to be called into hearings.

Some Republican leaders have said they would immediately disband the select committee on global warming. Republican leaders have also said they are looking for ways to reopen last year’s climate science controversy, the so called “climate-gate” scandal, even though five separate inquiries exonerated the scientists and reaffirmed the science on climate change.

Even with an influx of conservative lawmakers, there may still be room for some progress. Republicans may opt to work with the President to avoid being labelled as “do nothing” in 2012. Republicans will no doubt remember the re-election of Bill Clinton in 1996 after the Democrats’ 1994 midterm defeat.

The President understands that tackling climate change bit by bit is the only remaining option. If any legislation has a chance, it will have to be done in “chunks” of bills as there is no chance of passing comprehensive legislation.

Republicans may consider passing Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) legislation which has some bipartisan support. RES requires big electric utilities to generate 15 percent of their power from renewable sources by 2021.

Bipartisan support is also possible for a bill that reduces emissions of sulphur dioxide, mercury and nitrogen oxide from smokestacks, including coal-fired power plants.

Even in the absence of legislative action, President Obama can still move the US away from fossil fuels and toward cleaner energy.

The Interior Department can continue to provide federal licenses for the operation of solar plants on public land and leases for major offshore wind projects. The administration can also continue to move ahead with cuts in greenhouse gas emissions from trucks, buses and cars.

Republican threats to de-fund the EPA will fail because the veto is part of the executive privileges of Presidential power and the Republicans do not have the two thirds majority needed to override him. Although the Congress has power, the President’s powers are paramount, that is why what happens in 2012 is of great importance.

In the past century, every time a sitting president’s party has lost its majority in at least one house of Congress, the president went on to win re-election.

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Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of The Green Market Oracle, a leading sustainable business site and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

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Comments

  1. This time however, it's the biggest shellacking any president has seen in 70 years, and unlike Presidents Reagan and Clinton, This President lacks the domestic stature and to many, represents something un American and possibly treasonous. Building the green economy of the future requires a nation state with a significant degree of central governance. Sure, some states. like California can go it alone.There will be a wind farm here and a solar plant there but a national plan with serious funding will be lacking. That's what conservative republicans, libertarians and Tea party activists want, a government that is incapable of taking the lead on any serious initiatives. Power will likely become more fragmented as whole regions opt out what some would see as too much government intrusion in an areas that ought to be the domain of the private sector. Once this takes place, bringing the nation back together under a responsible federal government will become next to impossible. As envisioned, the private sector will have more decision making power than the Federal Government of the United States. Other nations will thus be the ones to lead in the Green economy.

  2. The zealous hatred of Democratic Presidents is a hallmark of Republican politics, Obama's presidency merely adds racism to the zenophobic mix. While central governance may work in China, it is not an option in the US and in my view, it is not a prerequisite for building a green economy. Although we are unlikely to see bipartisanship from the Republicans, if the electorate can get a better grasp of the issues, a critical mass could coallesce and break the Republican logjam. If the ignorance of the average American can be addressed the rest will follow. The Tea Party's wild-eyed desire to blow up Washington takes polarization to a whole new level and makes the situation that much more partisan. However, it may very well prove fortuitous to Obama's chances in 2012. I agree that the issue of corporate influence in the political process is an ongoing concern, particularly in light of this year's Supreme Court ruling. But as we saw in the California gubernatorial race and the failure of Prop 23, money cannot buy every victory.

    • And Ronald–zealour hatred of Republican Presidents IS a hallmark of Democrat poltics. George Bush was vilified for goin ahwad war in Iraq and saying there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq was exactly what Clinton said going into Iraq–his speech is still available on You Tube.

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