President Barack Obama says addressing climate change will be a top policy priority during his second term. The Republican-controlled House of Representatives, however, is unlikely to play along. This means the president will be left with a regulation-driven approach to U.S. climate policy.
In a Bloomberg Government Study, Senior Energy Analyst Rob Barnett sees limits to what the Environmental Protection Agency can do to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, or GHG. He concludes that even though EPA regulations will help reduce GHG emissions, they can’t lower emissions by 80 percent, which is the amount that climate scientists argue is necessary to avert the worst consequences of climate change. For that, serious legislation would be required.
Barnett concludes that new EPA regulations focused on power plant GHG emissions will be the top climate-related policy during Obama’s second term. The electric power sector represents about 40 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions. (Carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas.)
Since 2007, power plant emissions have declined by 16 percent, which reflects natural gas displacing coal. Natural gas has about half the carbon emissions of coal, and recent natural gas prices have been relatively cheap. There are, of course, limits to the amount of GHG reductions that can be achieved through coal-to-gas switching, and even the eradication of coal wouldn’t produce an 80 percent reduction in GHG emissions, the study finds.