President acting on promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions

May 1, 2015 By and    

There are two years left in President Barack Obama’s term; there is a Republican majority in the Senate and House of Representatives; and there is no national, comprehensive energy policy in sight.

Republican leaders of the 114th Congress continue to face strong opposition from within their own party and are finding veto-proof majorities difficult. This leaves the president with a strong hand to continue to wield his executive authority to make change, much to the dismay of Republicans.

As Obama has said in his State of the Union address and major policy speeches throughout his presidency, reducing greenhouse gases that cause climate change is a priority of his administration. Without an election to face or vulnerable mid-term Democratic seats to protect, he is freer, politically, to act on his promise to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Like Presidents Bush and Clinton before him, Obama continues to use his authority to issue executive orders and is following through on his promise to address climate change through direction to his agencies.

As an example, in January, the president issued an executive order to cut methane gas emitted from oil and gas operations. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also working toward a final rule to limit carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, and working on a rule for future power plants. And, the White House recently announced its plan to cut the greenhouse gas emissions of federal agencies by 40 percent by 2025. With last year’s surprise agreement with China to reduce greenhouse gases, the administration is doing all it can to lead by example in advance of the United States’ participation in the international climate change summit in December.

Meanwhile in Congress, while there has been no effective effort to pass a national, comprehensive energy policy for several years, new Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said after the mid-term election that he planned for Congress to pass a vote to allow construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline and “treat this like a serious and significant energy debate.”

The Keystone measure passed the House and Senate, but it failed to pass with enough votes to override the president’s anticipated veto. Efforts to use the amendment process to address other energy issues like hydraulic fracturing, energy exports and cross-border pipelines didn’t go far.

This leaves approval of the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline in the State Department’s hands. The president continues to say he will support the project only if it is in the nation’s best interest; it doesn’t “significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution”; and that the current State Department review process must play out.

Standing in the way
For now, Congress has turned its efforts toward slowing, impeding and stopping the processes that underlie the president’s executive orders.

Some Republicans have called for cuts to EPA’s budget or even elimination of the agency. Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, is using his power as new chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to investigate the EPA for alleged wrongdoing. Under his chairmanship, six new subcommittees have formed; their authority may be used to track, investigate and question the rulemaking authority of agencies. The committee’s new Interior Subcommittee is headed by Rep. Cynthia Lummis, a Republican from the major coal-producing state of Wyoming.

When Congress turns its attention to the appropriations process, the new Republican leadership will have more ability to attach policy riders to potential spending bills that will further restrict the agency’s abilities.

In March, Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., unveiled a bill to allow governors to disregard compliance with the EPA’s rule to limit carbon pollution from existing power plants (read coal-fired plants). McConnell followed suit in a letter urging governors to refuse to submit compliance plans for power plant rules. Opponents of the rule are calling it unconstitutional.

Recent actions in Congress show that when it comes to energy policy, the partisan lines continue to be strongly drawn, and that isn’t likely to change anytime soon. However, the U.S. has been able to become the world’s largest energy producer in spite of the lack of a comprehensive, strategic energy policy.

Lisa Bontempo was a longtime energy lobbyist, including 13 years with the National Propane Gas Association. She remains involved in national politics and can be reached at

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