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New Players in Environmental Policy for 2013

Below is a post by Ecowomen Board Member Beth Porter.  Beth serves on the Membership Committee for the DC EcoWomen’s Executive Board. She has a background in environmental advocacy, community outreach, and a passion for wildlife conservation.

At the close of 2012, environmental policy in the United States looked less than promising. Disappointed in America’s involvement (or lack thereof) in the UN climate conference held in Qatar last November, many watched as yet another opportunity for America to become a leader in fighting climate change pass by, leaving the conference nothing more than a side story shoved behind the headline of the recent election. On the heels of superstorm Sandy and one of the hottest summers on record, many had hoped that these, along with other even more devastating climate-related disasters, would steer the administration towards a more serious look at strong climate legislation. However, gridlock on Capitol Hill is doing more than it’s fair share on halting any progression on tackling the most serious threat we face as a country and as a global community. Senator James Inhofe (R-OK), member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, released a new minority report the same month of the UN climate negotiations in Qatar entitled, “A Look Ahead to EPA Regulations for 2013: Numerous Obama EPA Rules Placed On Hold until after the Election Spell Doom for Jobs and Economic Growth”.

Clearly, Inhofe is not a fan of the Environmental Protection Agency, the agency which some members of the House and Senate have been claiming to be one of the biggest threats to our economic recovery. However, the EPA strengthened regulations on dirty energy sources (Mercury and Air Toxics Standards) which has obvious health benefits, and also offers more incentive to expand the renewable production by making fossil fuel extraction more expensive, leading to job creation in the clean energy sector. The Natural Resources Defense Council states that a new 250-megawatt wind farm will create 1,079 jobs and add millions of dollars to local communities.

The MATS rule was only one of the victories (albeit, a significant one) the EPA has seen under the watch of Lisa Jackson. She also saw through improved fuel efficiency standards and made strides on climate change regulation under the Clean Air Act. Shortly after Obama’s re-election, Jackson announced that she would be stepping down as head of the EPA. It is unclear how drastically this will impact the success of the EPA in the coming year, as this announcement comes at a time when many feel President Obama’s commitment to addressing climate change has wavered due to his Fall campaign which barely mentioned the issue. No successor has been named, but it is likely that Robert Perciasepe, EPA deputy administrator, will temporarily take command. Many GOP members, including Inhofe, see this as an opportunity to weaken the regulatory hand of the EPA, though Jackson feels confidently that “the ship is sailing in the right direction”.

Another more promising change is on the horizon for environmental policy this year, in what some may say is a surprising source. In December, John Kerry was appointed to fill Hilary Rodham Clinton’s role as Secretary of State for Obama’s second term. In his time in the Senate, Kerry (D-Mass.) exhibited a strong record on climate change. Groups like have expressed favor to Kerry, but their optimism hinges on if he says no to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline, a controversial project which crosses the US border with Canada and requires State Department approval. Kerry will be taking over Hilary Clinton’s Global Climate Change and Clean Air Initiative, with a team including the EPA Administrator and representatives from four other countries. It is designed to tackle “short-lived climate pollutants”, which account for over one third of current global warming. It is speculated that Sen. Kerry will be the most adamant climate hawk to ever hold this office, leaving many in the environmental movement hopeful that 2013 will host more than a simple ‘conversation’ on the pressing issue of climate change.

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