President Barack Obama gave Congress an ultimatum on climate change in his State of the Union address: Craft a plan to slash greenhouse gas emissions or the White House will go it alone.
Energy policy analysts have long expected that Republican opposition to proposals such as putting a price on climate-warming carbon emissions meant the White House would need to flex its executive powers on certain climate moves.
The Environmental Protection Agency, bolstered by a 2007 Supreme Court ruling that required the EPA to regulate greenhouse gases, will likely take the lead in targeting the biggest carbon emitters: power plants, refineries and cars. The president can also use other methods to sidestep Congress to tackle the heat-trapping gases.
Obama on Tuesday night proposed an Energy Security Trust funded by oil and gas revenues to drive research into clean energy, but it would require congressional action. These are some of the moves the administration could take without Congress, to carry out Obama's goal of cutting carbon emissions by using or expanding existing authorities:
Existing Power Plants: Once the carbon standard for new power plants is finalized, the EPA can use the Clean Air Act to control carbon emissions from the nation's existing fleet of plants, which account for one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. Developing the rule could take over three years since the EPA would have to work with states, which would develop their own plans to comply. The rules are expected to meet stiff resistance from industry groups, which argue the United States does not have the technology available to reduce carbon emissions from older plants.
Tax Reforms: The White House may find ways to provide incentives for clean energy technology by reforming the tax code. The Treasury Department is reviewing how direct taxes, such as those on fuels, can decrease emission rates. The tax code can also be reformed to extend tax breaks offered to oil and gas companies, to renewable energy projects to level the playing field.
Green Government Procurement: A 2009 executive order directed federal agencies, the largest consumers of energy in the U.S. economy, to increase efficiency and promote the use of green technologies. The president could expand on this by directing office building retrofits or securing long-term contracts for renewable energy.
Capturing Methane from Natural Gas Production: Some green groups are urging the EPA to regulate leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from natural gas production. Requiring producers to capture vented, leaked or otherwise wasted natural gas from wells while the gas is readied for extraction could save money while lowering greenhouse gas emissions, they argue.
Combined Heat and Power: In August, Obama issued an executive order to increase the number of facilities that generate thermal and generating power simultaneously by 50 percent by 2020, a move that would boost industrial energy efficiency and slash carbon emissions by 150 million tons per year. Under the order, agencies such as the DOE, EPA and USDA to coordinate their policies on this to encourage more investment.
Steps on Transportation: The EPA could continue to reduce the carbon footprint of the country's second-biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions -- transportation. The EPA already brokered an agreement with the country's automakers to require the new fleet of vehicles to achieve 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Some analysts have said the EPA can take the standard further and raise the fuel economy standard for heavy trucks from the current goal of 23 percent by model year 2018.
New Energy Efficiency Standards for Household Appliances and Industrial Equipment: Since 2009, the DOE has issued 16 new or updated standards to increase annual energy savings by more than 50 percent, reducing as much as 6.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide emissions by 2030, the equivalent of taking 1.4 billion vehicles off the road. The DOE could expand those standards, which currently represent about 90 percent of home energy use, 60 percent of commercial building use, and 29 percent of industrial energy use.