It’s a weird time of year. Some reflect on the previous 12 months, while others endorse the temptation to look ahead. In energy and environmental circles, it seems looking ahead is more exciting, and for good reason.

2010 was far from a banner year, even for moderates on climate and energy issues. Cap-and-trade died the slowest of deaths over the summer. The Deepwater Horizon spill sent oil to the shores of the Gulf of Mexico. In the wake of the spill, President Obama pleaded for an energy policy that once again failed to gain traction and Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) apologized to BP for its spill. By the time November came around, almost every Republican elected to serve in Washington had become a climate change denier. And then some baby steps were taken at the U.N.’s climate negotiations in Cancun. So, for those who want to forget 2010, here’s what many reports are saying is on tap for the future:

While much attention is being focused on the January start date for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to begin regulating carbon emissions at the source, it’s worth noting that nothing in government happens that quickly. The Jan. 2 date applies to new sources of carbon emission producers. So new power plants and new refineries will be subject to new regulation, but regulation of existing carbon sources is a different story. Get the calendar out.

Politico’s Robin Bravender points out that regulation will come incrementally and won’t include any type of cap on emissions. The EPA’s air chief is reported to have July 2011 circled as the time when a draft for greenhouse gas performance standards for power plants must be implemented. As for the final rule on the power plant issue, that isn’t expected until May 2012.

Then there's the issue of regulating carbon emissions at refineries. Once again the format for this plan starts with a draft and is expected to be followed by a final rule. The draft on regulating carbon emissions at refineries is expected to be written by December 2011, with the final rule coming almost a year later in 2012.

Of course, this is all subject to change, delay and yes, politics. We have already seen a lot of frustration over the continued delay of a ruling on the regulation of toxic coal ash from power plants. And all the changes at the now-defunct Minerals Management Service will be slow to implement.

So while the pessimist can harp on the shortcomings of 2010, there seems to be hope for 2011 and 2012. But if you are putting any of the above-mentioned deadlines on you calendar, it may be wise to do so with a pencil.  

2011: Looking ahead on carbon regulation
After a tough 2010 for environmentalists, the future looks a bit brighter. Still, nothing is certain when it comes to politics and energy policy.