Climate Change Rules Among Obama's First

The Environmental Protection Agency is preparing to issue two climate change proposals in the near future. EPA has sent the White House two draft proposed rules: one that would mandate an increase in the proportion of biofuels in the national gasoline supply and another that would create a registry for greenhouse gas emissions.

Under Executive Order 12866, the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) reviews and edits drafts of proposed and final regulations before they shared with the public. The two EPA rules are among the first that the Obama White House will review. (So far, Obama's OIRA has approved just three regulations: an endangered species decision required by judicial deadline and two regulations from the Office of Personnel Management.)

One of President Obama's first actions was to come up with a plan to deal with those regulations left over from the Bush administration. A Jan. 20 memo from White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel instructed agencies to put the brakes on any proposed or final regulations not yet published.

The Emanuel memo left OIRA's cupboards bare. Within a week, federal agencies had withdrawn dozens of regulations from OIRA review. (EPA withdrew both the renewable fuels standard and the greenhouse gas registry rule, which had been submitted to OIRA by Bush's EPA.) Whether controversial or noncontroversial, regulatory or deregulatory, all rules went back to the agency so the new Obama appointees could reevaluate them.

The administration's decision to place two rules related to climate change among its first regulatory actions is significant and welcome. (Granted, it helps that EPA is one of the few regulatory agencies with a leader.) The Bush administration was notoriously inactive on climate issues, and Obama has promised to make curbing greenhouse gas emissions a priority.

Progress on the two rules is also good news for those who believe the Executive Branch should uphold the law. The renewable fuels standard – which requires a quadrupling of the renewable fuels supply, including a substantial amount of cellulosic ethanol or other advanced biofuels – is mandated under the 2007 energy bill. Congress set a deadline of Dec. 19, 2008 for EPA to finish the rule, but the agency has yet to even propose it. If done right, the standard would reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (More from NRDC here.)

The greenhouse gas registry rule is also required by law (the FY 2008 omnibus appropriations legislation). Congress required EPA to propose the rule by Sept. 26, 2008 (a deadline it has already missed) and finalize the rule by June 26, 2009 (a deadline it is in danger of missing). According to EPA, "This rulemaking would establish monitoring, reporting, and recordkeeping requirements on facilities that produce, import, or emit greenhouse gases above a specific threshold in order to provide comprehensive and accurate data to support a range of future climate policy options."

Taken along with the decision to reconsider California's request to regulate vehicle emissions, the Obama EPA is getting off to a fast start on climate change.

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