The Obama administration is gearing up for a fight when it comes to the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans for regulating greenhouse gasses.

Bloomberg’s Jim Efstathiou recently interviewed Frances Beinecke, the head of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), who made clear that the administration has to draw a firm line when it comes to regulating air pollution. I encourage anyone interested to read the entire piece, but here are three things I took away from it.

1. This isn’t just about Democrats vs. Republicans

Following the midterm election, many seem to think that more Republicans in both the Senate and House is bad for those who want to see more action on climate legislation. Don’t get me wrong, Republicans aren’t exactly the biggest helpers on this front, but Democrats aren’t fully on board either when it comes to carbon regulation. Look no farther than West Virginia. The state has two Democrats sitting in the Senate and both are against any action taken by the EPA when it comes to climate. All signs point to Sen. Jay Rockefeller moving forward with a plan that will delay the EPA’s enforcement of climate regulations by another two years. The agency was planning to begin enforcement on Jan. 2, 2011. Rockefeller’s proposal is expected to get the votes of many Blue Dog Democrats, especially those from coal states, including fellow West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin. Manchin was sworn into office on Monday along with Delaware Sen. Chris Coons. Coons is replacing Sen. Ted Kaufman, who held the seat between the departure of Vice President Joe Biden and the recent election. Manchin, who now has the seat of Sen. Robert Byrd, is well-known for his opposition to almost anything having to do with the EPA.


2. Whatever happens next will be small, not big

Beinecke comes across as quite the realist in this piece. The NRDC’s president points out that climate will not be dealt with the same way healthcare was dealt with. Instead, Beinecke is like many realists inside the Beltway who say any action on climate will be accomplished in a piece-by-piece method. “The big fix is very challenging, but the incremental steps still are very much ahead of us, and that’s where we’re going to focus,” said Beinecke. This rhetoric seems to be matching up with reports from Washington where some are saying that compromise measures on a renewable energy standard, public lands bills, and extension of the ethanol tax credits may be on the agenda for the lame duck Congress, or even the entirely new Congress after the new year.

3. There will be action in the court system

Assuming no major compromises develop in Congress, the EPA will be dealing with challenges in the form of lawsuits. Already, Texas has filed suit against the EPA, challenging the administration's authority to regulate carbon emissions within the Lone Star state’s borders. Several other states have taken similar action. While the EPA already has a Supreme Court ruling on its side granting it the authority to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act, there are plenty of legal avenues for interest groups and states to pursue that will delay the regulatory process. Despite these likely challenges, Beinecke told Bloomberg that the only way for the Obama administration to move forward will be by holding firm. “For Obama, holding firm, moving forward in the areas that he has authority to do so will be very important,” she said.

So the game plan is in place and the challenges are as well. Election season may be over, but Washington’s political fighting is sure to continue. 

Obama faces tough road on climate
The EPA may have authority to regulate carbon emissions, but that doesn't mean that power will go unchecked.