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Obama’s Plan for Climate Change to Face Legal Challenges

If you were to poll a majority of Americans from all ages and walks of life, chances are you would come away from the experience wondering why more hasn’t been done to alter climate policy. Most people agree that environmental sustainability is a crucial issue, and that greenhouse gas emissions and our addiction to fossil fuels is slowly but steadily leading to climate changes that are impacting people around the world. Even President Obama declared green energy one of the cornerstones of his administration, voicing his commitment to change on a large scale during both of his inaugural addresses. There are plenty of other issues that impact people’s lives on a daily basis that push green energy to the side, which makes it incredibly difficult for even a politician of Obama’s influence to enact any changes. While he remains committed, it seems clear that any plan he has to address climate change will face stiff legal challenges on the way to becoming law.

Obama has been working through the mandate given to him by the Clean Air Act. According to the tenets of that bill, the President has the authority to move against any classified air pollutants. And thanks to a ruling by the Supreme Court handed down six years ago, greenhouse gases do qualify. Obama has outlined the basics of a proposal that will place a limit on the amount of carbon dioxide any power plant currently in operation is allowed to generate, while simultaneously moving new electric production activities towards clean, renewable resources and natural gas.

The country’s scientists almost universally agree that this is a prudent move, yet Obama has found very little support in Congress to push through any sort of major piece of green energy legislation. Perhaps those politicians are too focused on delivering results in the job and housing markets. More likely they are feeling the pressure from some of their largest financial supporters, the massive leaders of the manufacturing industry. Ross Eisenberg, a speaker on behalf of the National Association of Manufacturers, declared that if the President tries to use the Clean Air Act to cap greenhouse gas emissions a lawsuit will immediately follow. He counters that emissions regulations should only come through policies agreed upon by Congress, working cooperatively with neighboring countries.

Environmental organizations obviously feel quite differently about the matter. In addition to the cap on emissions, Obama has suggested crafting a set of measures that would support the general public in becoming more energy efficient, and increasing the production of renewable energy on federal property. The World Resources Institute’s Kevin Kennedy praised Obama’s efforts, and acknowledged that the President probably sees his future legacy tied to his ability to make lasting energy policy changes. But the details of those suggested policies are murky at best. The Environmental Protection Agency has yet to be consulted, and detractors have voiced concerns that Obama’s only plan is to suggest a bunch of generalities without the backing of an actionable set of programs or regulations.

If you explore the EPA’s previous efforts to limit emissions you’ll get a sense of the battle Obama has in front of him. The Environmental Protection Agency suggested specific limits back in 2012 that would have set a new standard for any additional coal-based power plants to follow. These proposals were met with an outcry from business organizations that were more than willing to throw significant financial resources behind battling these regulations. It doesn’t take a LLM law degree to realize what happened. In the end, these issues will probably go all the way to the Supreme Court. Luckily, that body issued a statement declaring it would explore the suggested EPA regulations. Environmentalists are hopeful this signals a willingness on the part of the highest court in the land to support the President in ongoing green initiatives.

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