In Obama second term, EPA set to issue emission rules

Climate change may regain priority in the Obama administration. One area where the President can act without Congress is supporting the Environmental Protection Agency as it writes new rules limiting emissions.

As the American people wait for President Obama to outline his second term priorities, climate change seems a live issue again. In his re-election acceptance speech, he stated: "We want our children to live in an America that isn't burdened by debt, that isn't weakened by inequality, that isn't threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet."

At the outset, the energy industry is watching not so much Congress, but the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA has a long to-do list, none of which requires congressional action: Writing new rules limiting sulfur in gasoline, ozone emissions, and pollution from cement plants and boilers.

Perhaps the closest watched will be rules governing existing power plants and their greenhouse gas emissions. They make up 40 percent of the national footprint.

The agency "got a little bit of a pass from the environmental movement with the election pending," says Elliot Diringer of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. "But now with the election behind us there will be very strong pressure on the administration to move forward with those regulations."

Coal industry groups are wary of the pending power plant rules, arguing regulations will doom coal plants. But analyst Brandon Blossman at securities and investment-banking firm Tudor, Pickering, Holt says coal's big problem is competition. It's losing business to cheap natural gas.

"The loss of market share has really put a lot pressure on demand for domestic power generation coal," Blossman says.

In the President's first term, his EPA was accused of stalling, by some. The agency had agreed to a legal settlement promising to issue the power plant rules. Mr. Obama's re-election may free the agency to proceed, with political certainty.

About the author

Scott Tong is a correspondent for Marketplace’s sustainability desk, with a focus on energy, environment, resources, climate, supply chain and the global economy.

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