In the face of a crumbling second-term agenda, President Barack Obama is seeking to cement his legacy through executive action on climate change through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
“He may be able to do more through climate change [rules] because the EPA has the authority,” Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut told The Hill this week.
“I think climate change, immigration reform are both sort of legacy issues,” Blumenthal added. “The measure of his presidency will be whether he has left changes in law and regulation, but also a heightened awareness, which I think he has been doing.”
But immigration reform legislation is stalled in Congress — and the myriad problems surrounding the rollout of Obama's signature domestic policy achievement, Obamacare, continue to fuel calls for its delay or abolishment.
Under climate change, Obama’s broadest effort seeks to reduce carbon emissions at the nation's existing power plants, the primary source of industrial carbon emissions.
New standards are being written by the EPA.
But even the president's legacy on that issue faces a bigger threat, experts told the Hill: his term ends in 2016.
Princeton University professor Julian Zelizer told the Hill that executive actions "don’t have the same kind of impact in defining a president as big legislative accomplishments, and they are more susceptible to being overturned.
"The next president can change them," added Zelizer, who teaches history and public affairs. "That’s always the problem."
For instance, President Obama told the EPA in June to release draft federal emissions standards for power plants currently operating next June and finish them the next year, the Hill reports.
States then would have to submit plans on how they intend to implement the new regulations by the middle of 2016.
The new rules would most definitely be challenged in court, Jeff Holmstead, a partner at the Bracewell & Giuliani law firm, told the Hill.
“Even if EPA is able to stay on schedule and sign the final... rule by June of 2015, it is very unlikely that litigation over the rule will be resolved before the president leaves office,” said Holmstead, who served as the EPA's top air-pollution regulator under President George W. Bush.
Further, the EPA must rule on the plans submitted by the states, he said.
“At that point, there is likely to be litigation over EPA's decision,” Holmstead told the Hill, noting that such court action could take "years" — involving “possibly as many as 50 different lawsuits in every U.S. Circuit Court in the country.”
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