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November 07, 2012
What Obama's re-election means for environmental issues

by Clare Condon, BLR’s Managing Editor, Environmental

Under President Obama in his second term, we will see more of the same, however with a greater verve. The administration will likely continue to be open to additional regulations for businesses, especially ones that may have been put on the back burner pending election results.  Also, Obama probably will appoint more individuals to executive agencies who are focused on enforcement and compliance.

Several environmental issues will be impacted over the next 4 years, including energy, EPA regulation, environmental justice, and as the President alluded to in his acceptance speech, he will now be pushing the lever on climate change.

Here’s an overview of pertinent environmental topics sure to take center stage in Obama’s second term followed with a note about environmental issues before the Supreme Court this term.

Climate Change

President Obama ill continue efforts to reduce carbon pollution. He sees climate change as a real threat, especially in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, which may have given a boost the President who is perceived as showing strong leadership. The mega-storm also highlighted the differences between the Republicans and Democrats on the role of government. Cap and trade legislation and regulation for greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will be revived in Obama’s second term. Affected industry sectors can expect an up tempo on regulation as the issue is fought out in a still divided Congress.


President Obama’s “all of the above” policy for energy puts an emphasis on alternative sources. The proposed CO2 limits for new coal-fired power plants will move toward finalization. While the President wants to reduce dependency on oil, he supports oil and gas (O&G) exploration but would not drill in ANWR along with other “sensitive public places” such as Pacific West Coast, Gulf of Maine, and other “irreplaceable national landscapes.”. Obama also supports fracking but would increase federal oversight. Proposed rule would require disclosure of chemicals used in fracking process.


With one glaring exception (stalling more stringent ozone standard), President Obama has not interfered with EPA administrator Lisa Jackson’s environmental agenda.  Although clearly not afraid to issue regulations, he has issued several executive orders for agency review of regulations to eliminate redundant and unnecessary ones. EPA has taken a number of actions to repeal outdated or ineffective regs (e.g., certain requirements for wastewater facilities; eliminating regulations that call for the use of redundant vapor recovery systems at gas stations; amended NSPS for grain elevators to accommodate increase in ethanol production; simplifying Title V process).

This drive to get rid of unnecessary regulations will continue, but in the second Obama term, expect new environmental regulations concerning air emissions (including GHGs) and control of water pollution. We will definitely see a more stringent ozone standard as it comes up for a mandated review in 2013. We may even see a stricter standard than the one EPA proposed that was rebuffed by the President in his first term. Also expect an even greater emphasis on environmental justice—an issue close to Jackson’s heart.

Supreme Court

The old adage that “Justices follow the election returns” likely has the Roberts’ court scratching its collective head. It was widely accepted that whoever won this election would inform the direction of the court for years to come. The oldest justices, who have a liberal-bent, can now feel that they can retire peacefully knowing that Obama would replace them with candidates more along their lines of thinking. The court will continue to be divided with swing votes of Justice Kennedy and possible Chief Justice Roberts, being of utmost importance. 

The reelection of President Obama will also inform decisions for this term. Justice Roberts’ concern about the partisanship that seemed to take over his court may have been a factor in his decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare).

We will be keeping a close eye on three environmental cases before the High Court this term:

  1. Whether logging roads need stormwater permits. We are not sure why the Court took this one up. It has always been an EPA policy that they don’t need apermit and EPA has a proposed rule to exempt them in the wake of a 9th circuit decision that they do need a permit.
  2. Whether district waterbodies need a discharge permit when there is a transfer of water. The Court will decide whether transfers “activities that merely convey or connect waters” or are they “dischargers” and need a NPDES permit?
  3. The Court also recently agreed to hear a case out  of Florida where a developer was denied a wetlands permit because he refused to abide by the mitigation requirements of the permit.

BLR will continue to report on how the 2012 election results may impact your facility operations. Check back for updates.

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