At the same time, the White House will be working to fend off an avalanche of legal attacks on the climate rules from states and industry groups, although that process is sure to stretch on for years.
And while getting the Clean Power Plan off the ground—and protecting it from legal challenges by states and industry groups—is likely to be the focus of most environmentalists, they say there’s room for Obama to go beyond his successes in 2015.
“It’s hard to find any other area of policy with this administration in the second term that’s come with more coordination across the Cabinet, more events, and more drive than climate change,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean-air program for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “I would expect to see more of that in 2016. I don’t think he’ll follow a year of action with a year of rest.”
According to the regulatory agenda released in November, the Department of Energy will keep moving forward on several energy-efficiency rules meant to make appliances greener, including rules on heat pumps, electric motors, portable air conditioners, dishwashers, and ceiling fans. That’s part of a DOE pledge to cut 3 billion metric tons of carbon pollution by 2030 through energy-conservation standards.
The EPA will set final emissions standards for heavy trucks, building on a June proposal to limit pollution from trucks, buses, and trailers. Also under consideration is starting a review of the fuel-economy standards on light-duty cars, an opportunity for automakers and regulators to see what progress has been made on the administration’s requirement that cars reach 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. The review, however, could be a trouble spot, as low gas prices have blunted sales of clean cars and could give automakers leverage to try to reduce standards.
Greens are especially hopeful that Obama will use his final year to get the ball rolling on a crackdown of methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells, complementing a rule on new and modified wells that’s set to be wrapped up in 2016. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that traps 20 times as much heat as carbon dioxide, a nasty byproduct of the natural-gas boom that’s buoyed the nation’s energy sector.
“Finalizing existing-source methane regulations would cement the Obama administration's climate legacy by locking in mandatory reductions meeting the U.S. targets, demonstrating to the world that the U.S. intends to meet its commitments,” said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force.
The White House has said it would like to cut methane emissions by up to 45 percent of 2012 levels by 2025, but the most meaningful rules have been the proposal to slash methane and volatile organic compounds emissions from new gas wells. With the natural-gas boom not going away anytime soon, expect a renewed focus from environmentalists to undo its harmful side effects.