Yesterday the President announced a sweeping new climate rule that if enacted would have sweeping repercussions for every state and citizen in the United States. The rule, aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2025, orders states to must reduce their carbon footprint. For the President, it would secure his green legacy.
Obama has little to fear electorally from such a move. As the National Journal notes, the states least-reliant on fossil fuel voted almost in lockstep for Obama while those most-reliant on fossil fuel (minus Idaho) backed Romney. Further, of the states most reliant on fossil fuels, the GOP controls a majority of their legislatures and statewide executive offices.
Even sitting Democrats have little to fear by embracing this measure. However, the move promises to unlock an ideologically-driven fight over the environment waged between the states and the federal government. Several red state Republican governors and the massive oil and coal industry have threatened to sue.
The war is also sure to be waged electorally. A perfect proxy of this ideological fight will be seen in the Kentucky gubernatorial race in November. Democratic candidate Jack Conway has run away from the President on the issue even as environmental groups back his candidacy. His opponent Matt Bevin is literally staking his entire campaign on Conway being unable to distance himself from the President on an issue so relevant to Kentucky’s coal reliant economy.
Fights over the climate are nothing new. In 2009 Democrats almost passed the massive Cap-and-Trade bill. It passed the House but died in the Senate due to the objections of many fossil fuel representing Democratic senators.
The President has not been shy about using the power of his office to pursue his green agenda. He put over $90 billion in green subsidies into the 2009 stimulus package. He convinced Democrats and, more importantly, the auto industry to embrace new fuel mileage standards (at the time Americans wanted smaller, more efficient cars due to the price of gas).
Whereas Democrats had complete control of government from 2009 through 2010, the President’s agenda has been stymied by a Republican Congress and sweeping Republican gains in the states. Republicans have refused to act on Cap-and-Trade and have written affidavits in favor of state lawsuits against the EPA. The GOP Congress has also cut funding to the EPA by over 20 percent relative to pre-recession levels. This has meant the President has had to go it alone.
In some cases the President has been cautious. He tried to get a new international climate accord to replace Kyoto signed. If a make-or-break meeting is not successful in Paris later this year, then Obama may not be in office by the time movement, one way or the other, is made on the proposed accord. Republicans have universally panned the likely deal knowing it will impose more carbon reduction burdens on the nation.
But executive orders are much more fragile than bedrock laws. The going-it-alone route means the next president could easily repeal prior action if it proves politically advantageous. For example, while an action-boosting vehicle fuel economy was practical because it gelled with consumer demand, the President’s most recent executive action bears no such similarity. Likewise, many Republicans have claimed a “tough on China” stance for their 2016 campaigns, imperiling a deal the President signed with China to combat climate change.
By far the biggest threat to the President’s green agenda, and that of Progressives more broadly, are the states. GOP-led states scored a major success at the Supreme Court when they argued the EPA could not first enforce a rule without detailing the cost in the Clean Air Act. The President is using the Clean Air Act as his vehicle for the sweeping new EPA rules. Serious questions persist about whether the law allows for the EPA to take such aggressive measures to combat Climate Change.
Regardless, the law is sure to find its way to the Supreme Court and impose significant costs on Americans. However, it is unlikely to change America’s electoral landscape. Due to what the National Journal has noted, and the inescapable fact many Independents and Republicans do not value fighting climate change, the rule is probably not going to change many minds. It will only reinforce ideological leanings.