Wednesday, December 9, 2009

U.S. Emissions

I one of the previous posts I talked a bit about some of the potential pitfalls that may undermine the potential for a significant deal to be negotiated here in Copenhagen. One of those stumbling blocks was the U.S. ability to negotiate any treaty without the tacit approval of Congress back home. While it is true that the Senate ratifies any treaty made by the executive branch, the Obama administration has quietly been trying to find alternate ways to put pressure on both houses to pass climate legislation so that everything will not come down to whether to ratify or not ratify a controversial climate treaty.

The EPA recently made an endangerment finding on carbon dioxide. As boring as this sounds, this is really significant. Just look how scared industry is over this. It means that the EPA has determined that carbon dioxide represents an environmental threat to human health and safety and as such, they have the power to regulate it. EPA can now establish emissions regulations on its own without waiting on climate legislation to go through Congress.

That is the threat. Obama would prefer not to do it this way however because if it were administered by the Executive branch, the next President could direct the EPA to influence or restrict enforcement. Though he would seem to prefer that this issue be resolved by Congress it is unclear whether he would go ahead and direct the EPA to regulate CO2 on its own if Congressional action gets bogged down in politics, as it always seems to do.

Many people here in Copenhagen seem to be aware of all this and are watching the U.S. closely; both Congress and signals being made by the President. I think in some ways, many people here in Copenhagen from all around the world understand the delicate balance between the U.S. Congress and the President better than many Americans seem to.

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