Saturday, December 31, 2011

2011's Seven Most Significant U.S. Environmental Policy Stories

For my money, here are the seven most significant U.S. environmental policy strories of the last year.

1.  Still no federal climate change policy.  While we did see some efforts by states, regions, and even federal agencies to takle greenhouse gas emissions, the fact that we still do not have a federal mechanism to address the problem more broadly is in my opinion the biggest environmental policy story of the year.  Global emissions continue to climb, and we have not really left the starting gate to address the most signficant environmental challenge of this generation.

2.  EPA's new mercury rule.  This is likely to have signficant impacts on a number of the country's most significant polluters, particularly older coal-fired power plants.   

3.  The Obama Administration's decision to back off revising the ozone standard.  The new standards would have meant cleaner air throughout the country and could have incentivized investments in cleaner technologies and pollution reduction.  It was an opportunity squandered.

4.  Efforts in Congress to cut environmental funding and undo environmental regulations.  Due to efforts by those in Congress, environmental funding took a significant hit in 2011.  Additionally, Congress ended up successfully attaching a number of anti-envrionment riders to important legislation, including a rider that will delay regulations designed to promote energy efficienct light blubs and another one that will force the Obama Administration to make a decision on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline within the next couple of months.  

5.  New fuel standards.  The new fuel standards for automobiles are set to reduce the country's emissions from cars and trucks by about half by 2025.

6.  The Solyndra controversy.  Regardless of what one thinks about the merits of the controversy, the fact that there is now a controversy regarding Obama's policies surrounding clean energy and green jobs is significant.  Up until this controversy, clean energy and green jobs had little political downside for the Obama Administration.  Solyndra changed all of that.

7.  Republican presidential candidates targeting EPA and climate change policy.  Any candidate who has a realistic chance at becoming the Republican presidential nominee took firm positions criticizing EPA and questioning EPA's attempt to regulate greenhouse gases.  Regardless of who wins the nomination, positions taken in 2011 suggest that the stakes are very high for the environment in the 2012 presidential election.    

-- Brigham Daniels 

http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/environmental_law/2011/12/2011s-five-most-significant-us-environmental-law-stories-.html

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