Climate Compass Blog

Major Environmental Laws Come in Election Years – Climate is No Exception in 2010

When the Congress returns from Easter Recess next week, 116 days will remain on the legislative calendar before Election Day on November 9.  This relative dearth of time has led some proponents of climate action to worry whether there is enough political appetite for Congress to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation while midterm elections loom.  Certainly, the November elections are on the minds of legislators.  However, elections have always factored into Congressional decision-making and action.  Government accountability through elections is what our Republic is founded on, after all.  Despite impending campaigns, nearly every major environmental law of the last 40 years has been passed during an election year.

In general, Congress has a history of making big policy decisions during election years.  USA Today recently found that over the last 20 years, Congresses have actually passed 70% more laws in election years than in other years.  What’s more is that these laws are not just limited to post office dedications and other less-than-essential topics.  Comprehensive legislation has often passed in election years, including the 1994 crime bill, 1996 welfare reform, 2002 McCain-Feingold campaign finance reform, and even the health care reform bill this year.

Turning specifically to environmental laws, 22 major laws (listed below), beginning with the National Environmental Policy Act signed in 1970, were enacted in election years.  For example, October 1986 – just weeks from Election Day – saw the passage of significant amendments to the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA or Superfund).

A clear precedent for climate change legislation passing in 2010 is the Clean Air Act amendments that passed in late 1990.  Just as President Obama campaigned on passing climate legislation, President George H.W. Bush campaigned to enact new air pollution laws.  Bush worked with a group of bipartisan legislators to have a revolutionary package of amendments introduced in the House by Rep. Dingell (D-MI) and in the Senate by Sen. Chafee (R-RI).  This package included a cap-and-trade program for power plant emissions of acid rain-causing NOx and SO2.  After the bipartisan bills easily passed both chambers by mid-year, the conference committee, led by Sen. Baucus (D-MT), agreed to a compromise bill that passed 401-25 in the House and 89-10 in the Senate.  Passage occurred by these wide, bipartisan margins on October 26 and 27 – not bad for two weeks before an election.

Comprehensive climate and energy legislation should be the next in the series of major environmental laws passed in a midterm election year.  Like the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, other environmental laws have required bipartisan compromise.  Democrats and Republicans have had to reach agreement on environmental policy before and they can do so again, even in an election year.  Making good public policy is the best politics, and a strong bipartisan effort on the serious challenge of climate change is something that both parties should be accountable for in November.

Environmental laws passed in election years since 1970 include:

  • National Environmental Policy Act (1970)
  • Clean Air Act Amendments (1970)
  • Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970)
  • Marine Mammal Protection Act (1972)
  • Coastal Zone Management Act (1972)
  • Clean Water Act (1972)
  • Safe Drinking Water Act (1974)
  • Fisheries Conservation and Management Act (1976)
  • Toxic Substances Control Act (1976)
  • Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (1976)
  • Federal Land Policy and Management Act (1976)
  • Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (1980)
  • Nuclear Waste Policy Act (1982)
  • Superfund Amendments and Reauthorization Act (1986)
  • Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (1986)
  • Ocean Dumping Act (1988)
  • Shore Protection Act (1988)
  • Oil Pollution Act (1990)
  • Clean Air Act Amendments (1990)
  • Pollution Prevention Act (1990)
  • Food Quality Protection Act (1996)  
  • Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments (1996)

Environmental laws passed in non-election years include:

  • Endangered Species Act (1973)
  • Clean Air Act Amendments (1977)

Michael Tubman is the Congressional Affairs Fellow

It’s No Joke: Fighting Climate Change Can Save Money and Reduce Oil Dependency

The federal government took the opportunity on April Fool’s Day to show the world the United States is not joking about its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The U.S. EPA and U.S. DOT have jointly produced a standard that will reduce CO2 emissions by 1 billion metric tons over the lifetime of vehicles covered and on average save consumers around $3,000 in fuel costs over the life of each vehicle purchased in 2016. The new rule requires the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) for new passenger cars and light-duty trucks to be 35.5 miles per gallon by 2016. It will also limit carbon dioxide emitted from those vehicles to 250 grams per mile on average. The vehicle emissions rule shows how one policy can achieve multiple goals – reduce our dependence on foreign oil and reduce our nation’s GHG emissions.

The implementation of this regulation is a nod to complementary policies that combat climate change. As an organization that has long pushed for a comprehensive market-based mechanism, we are acutely aware of the importance of pricing carbon. However, putting a modest price on carbon, by itself, would not significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from this sector. For example, EPA’s analysis of the House-passed climate and energy bill found that the bill would cause the price of a gallon of gasoline to only rise by $0.13 in 2015, $0.25 in 2030, and $0.69 in 2050. The rule finalized Thursday addresses this problem directly by setting an increasingly more stringent standard for reducing GHG emissions but allowing vehicle manufacturers the flexibility to find the most cost-effective technologies to achieve those standards.

In evaluating regulations like these, one important factor to consider is coverage. The new vehicle rule covers over 60 percent of greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. Other sources of emissions in transportation such as aviation, ships, and heavy-duty trucks will require additional actions (see our paper on aviation and marine transportation). EPA has announced its intent to propose GHG standards for heavy duty trucks in June of this year.

Another important factor to consider when evaluating regulations is cost. In order to meet the new standards, vehicle manufacturers will have to make fuel efficiency (as opposed to increased engine horsepower) one of their primary areas of focus for research and development. In doing so, future vehicles will cost more than they would without this rule. However, fuel savings over time will more than make up for that additional upfront cost.

The program is estimated to conserve 1.8 billion barrels of oil over the lifetime of vehicles covered under the rule. Reducing our overall oil consumption can reduce our reliance on foreign oil, which can translate into cost savings. A study by the U.S. EPA and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory estimated that a reduction of U.S. imported oil results in a total energy security benefit of $12.38 per barrel of oil, in part by reducing defense spending. Co-benefits like these are an important part of determining the worthiness of a policy. In the case of the new vehicle rule, the U.S. has taken a big step towards reducing its oil dependency and increasing its energy security.

Nick Nigro is a Solutions Fellow

Finding the Sweet Spot for Offshore Drilling

The Obama Administration made some important announcements about offshore drilling last week. And in the near and medium term, we believe increasing U.S. oil production is compatible with successful efforts to significantly reduce U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Offshore drilling has been much talked about lately. Expanding offshore drilling in the federal outer continental shelf (OCS) areas and increasing oil and gas revenue sharing for nearby coastal states is part of the package of climate and energy policies being negotiated by Senators Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman.

What Would Ronald Reagan Do About Climate Change?

This provocative question is raised by a new website, Climate Conservative, that launched today.  The site challenges some of the ideological dynamics about climate change and encourages conservatives to look beyond the echo chamber of talk radio to the facts and history of climate change.  It traces conservative thinking about environmental action through conservative thinkers from Edmund Burke to Barry Goldwater and Ronald Reagan and relates how such thinking should apply to tackling the problem of climate change.

The website features some radio ads that are set to go on air in selected markets this week as well.  The ads highlight steps President Reagan took on international environmental cooperation, remarkably, described in his own words.  For instance, Reagan overruled skeptics about the effects of ozone-depleting chemical to pursue the Montreal Protocol to remarkable effect.  It’s a fantastic parallel to the current need of conservatives to take on climate skeptics and do what’s environmentally and economically right for the country.

From Shop Floor to Top Floor

From factory floors to corporate boardrooms, energy efficiency is top of mind for a growing number of businesses and their employees. Leading companies are pioneering new energy efficiency strategies that result in greater productivity, robust financial savings, and a lower carbon footprint. Today, we released a major study that examines key practices of a diverse collection of corporations at the vanguard of innovative energy efficiency solutions.

The report, From Shop Floor to Top Floor: Best Business Practices in Energy Efficiency, features insights from detailed research and analysis collected over nearly two years. The study represents the centerpiece of our Corporate Energy Efficiency Conference next week in Chicago.