Time will tell, but probably yes. One of the most significant moves by the Obama administration was to direct the Environmental Protection Agency to develop rules regarding carbon dioxide emissions. Essentially, the EPA has ruled that CO2 is a pollutant, and can therefore be regulated under existing federal laws. This policy is intended to fulfill the promises Obama made during the 2008 campaign to use federal agencies to attack the sources of climate change. As the world’s leading producer of carbon emissions, effective federal action on regulating greenhouse gases is likely to make some measurable headway on slowing global warming. During the Bush administration, the EPA declined to regulate CO2 as a pollutant. The classification is still heavily controversial, and it remains to be seen whether the funds Obama has proposed in his budget to regulate carbon emissions will remain, or will be blocked by political opponents and interests that do not want to see CO2 regulated. However, the fact that the rule has been made makes it at least somewhat harder to “unmake” it in the future: according to principles of administrative law, in order to change the rule the EPA must subject future revisions to a hearings and comment process and explain why reversing it makes sense. Just as there were political consequences for promulgating the rule in the first place, there would certainly be consequences for rescinding it. My own prediction is that the EPA’s rules on carbon emissions will probably be at least semi-permanent, and whether or not they are enforced in the near future, they are likely to be effective at some point as climate change grows worse and as it becomes a less politically explosive issue. Thus, even if the EPA does not take significant action on regulating CO2 emissions while Obama is in office (whether he makes his exit in 2013, as his opponents hope, or in 2017), this action will probably have some effect in the future.
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