Climate Change Legislation – 1/23/16

Following the Paris Climate Talks, nearly 200 countries agreed to a pact many hope will stop the worst effects of climate change. The pact itself relies on domestic implementation since there is no international agency with the power necessary to enforce the rules set forth so, for the US especially, compliance will rely on political whim.

Last Thursday, a federal court refused to temporary block new carbon-emissions rules pushed by the Obama administration without actually addressing their legality. The regulations set a national standard for power plant carbon pollution: a 30% cut to 2005 levels by 2030. The leaders of the opposition to the new rules are, of course, states like West Virginia which are set to lose the most from a switch from coal to renewables. These states will now pursue other legal options and seek more favorable rulings from higher courts until the case reaches the Supreme Court or a new President enters the picture and uses their power to revoke the rule. In the meantime, the deadline for companies to submit plans to meet the rules approaches.

Climate change is an increasingly polarizing issue in America as environmental regulations grow more and more burdensome for pollution-intensive industries. As fear of climate-based disaster or job loss via environmentalism grows, it is likely that environmental policy will be one of the most debated issues of the next few years. It seems that, at the moment, environmentalists are making their case effectively. The EPA and White House have managed to set in motion plans to make increased energy efficiency and emissions limits the new normal, while public opinion appears to be turning against climate skeptics as evidence for man-made climate change grows. Given the disarray the Republican party is facing so close to the presidential election and a potential backlash against embattled GOP candidates, the Democratic party may soon be in a better position to solidify current climate change policies. Four more years of a Democratic executive branch and its control over appointment of supreme court judges could prove devastating to the agendas of climate change skeptics.

The development of alternative energy technology will have a large impact on how successful attempts to reduce emissions will be be. In spite of bankruptcies forcing the bankruptcy and consolidation of many solar companies between 2011 and 2013, solar energy has come a long way. The reinstatement of tax credits for investment in solar and wind energy was led to increased installation projections. Decreasing “hard” and “soft” costs, increasing lobbying clout of the solar industry, and rising support from the general public are leading solar closer to a competitive position rivaling traditional producers. The real turning point will come when solar reaches grid parity and can generate power at a levelized cost of electricity less then the price of purchasing power from the grid. To have solar compete on price point alone, without reliance on political support, would be a victory beyond victories for environmentalists.

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