President Obama still has an uphill battle with Congress on limiting carbon emissions, but he may be able to achieve more progress on curbing emissions by using Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation.
Due to reelection and shifting political agendas and economic conditions, Obama may actually be in a better position now to endure the confrontation with the energy industry he will have to have in order to get emissions lowered.
The major economic change of late is the increase in domestic production of natural gas thanks to hydraulic fracturing, otherwise known as fracking. Fracking creates a less expensive alternative to coal-generated electricity and has calmed some of the initial panic that carbon restrictions will elevate utility bills considerably.
Obama’s 2012 reelection was a major victory for the president. The oil and coal industries used millions of dollars to attempt to defeat his reelection bid, and Obama won soundly. And while the coal industry quadrupled political contributions between 2008 and 2012 and gave over 90% of its money to Republicans, Obama still carried all the swing states that produce the most coal.
The EPA will most likely issue regulations limiting emissions from existing power plants. The EPA has proposed rules limiting emissions from future plants, and essentially preventing the construction of new coal-fired power plants under existing technology.
The World Resources Institute calculated that extending those limits to existing plants, along with some smaller steps, would allow Obama to meet his stated goal of reducing US emissions in 2020 by 17% from 2005 levels.
The growth in gas production has allayed price swing fears. As a result, the industry and environmentalists expect that utilities would respond to EPA regulation primarily by shifting further and faster to natural gas, rather than trying to make a generational leap to solar or wind power.