With last year’s landmark U.S.-China agreement on climate change, the Obama administration has raised the bar for America when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). That deal set new targets for reducing emissions by 26—28 percent (from 2005) levels by 2025, well above the previous pledge of 17 percent by 2020. Given implacable Republican opposition to taking action against global warming, how can the United States deliver on this ambitious promise?
Congress has tried, and failed repeatedly, to pass legislation that would cap greenhouse gas emissions. In June of 2009, the House of Representatives, then controlled by Democrats, narrowly passed a bill that placed an economy-wide cap on greenhouse gas emissions. Attempts to move a Senate bill floundered in the summer of 2010 on Democratic defections; monolithic Republican opposition and, some environmentalists complained, tepid White House support. That fall, Republicans took back the House and narrowed the Democrat majority in the Senate, killing any prospect of national legislation to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
The impasse led President Obama to reach for the only policy lever he had left—executive action. In a landmark 2007 decision, the Supreme Court gave the Environmental Protection Agency the green light to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act.