Thursday, May 17, 2012
US Presidential candidates far apart on CO2 regulations
US candidates far apart on carbon, less on green energy New Energy 5/17/12
With six months to go until US elections, it’s clear that prospects for a national carbon price in the US — and Washington’s position at global climate talks — will hinge on whether President Barack Obama earns a second four-year term or is replaced by presumed Republican opponent Mitt Romney. The outcome of the contest is also set to affect a raft of environmental policies, but here, the differences may not be as sharp as portrayed by the campaigns and mainstream media. A second Obama administration could use the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to impose additional carbon controls or could even have another run at climate legislation, if more Democrats are elected to Congress. Romney, by contrast, proclaims that alternative energy is expensive, and promises to undo the Obama EPA’s carbon regulations if elected. But a Romney administration may come around to support some green energy strategies, particularly as a bargaining chip with Congress — after all, he took Massachusetts into a regional carbon
trading scheme while governor of that state.
Even with Obama emboldened by a second, and final, term, he may hold back from comprehensive climate legislation. Analysts note that public support has waned for both cap-and-trade and climate policy more generally over the past three years: “I think we need to wait for the pendulum to swing back, and that’s going to take a while,” says Emilie Mazzacurati, head of carbon analysis at Point Carbon. The EPA would offer Obama a more convenient tool, after the agency ruled in 2009 that greenhouse gases are a health concern that can be regulated under the existing Clean Air Act. The agency initially rolled out technology rules for power plants, refineries and energy-intensive manufacturers, and has now unveiled plans to limit the carbon footprint of new power plants under the act’s “new source performance standards,” effectively shutting out new coal-fired capacity. The latter move suggests the agency “may be moving toward a tradable carbon standard,” says policy analyst Kevin Book of Clearview Energy Partners in Washington. “That’s a big deal.” Although the EPA would prefer legislation, the agency does not rule out setting up a carbon market on its own. The EPA last year tried and failed to get $7.5 million from Congress to explore market mechanisms, and more recently rolled out an online carbon market simulator. The EPA successfully ran a cap-and-trade program for acid rain, but failed with a similar plan for mercury emissions.
Romney, for his part, could find it legally and procedurally difficult to override the EPA’s past conclusions, which would require a strong burden of proof, but could choose to enforce existing carbon controls less strictly through new technical guidance. Certainly, Romney’s campaign statements so far suggest a commitment to dismantle the Obama administration’s carbon controls, and opposition in principle to national carbon legislation.
Romney may be more willing to support renewable energy alongside conventional forms — an “all-of-the-above” approach, rather than a strategy of picking winners and losers. The need to negotiate with Congress on energy, tax and budget legislation would likely force a Romney administration to swallow some items that typically garner bipartisan support. Such items could include tax credits for renewable electricity generation and cellulosic ethanol production, both due to expire this year, along with steps to open federal lands and waters to wind and solar development (p7).
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