There are several unknowns when it comes to environmental policy in 2013.
Even if President Obama wins re-election, it's unclear whether he will be able, or willing, to move on the environment in his second term; it's also unclear how far the Republicans will go to stymie robust environmental regulation.
But, whatever the outcome of the November election, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be front and center, because it is the bellwether governmental agency for the environment and sustainability in this country.
Many Republicans believe the EPA’s regulations kill jobs and curtail economic growth; many Democrats, on the other hand, see the EPA as the last public-sector bulwark against private-sector pollution. Legislation to include greenhouse gas emissions as an EPA-regulated pollutant under the Clean Air Act has been challenged in court by conservative groups, although the lawsuits were recently dismissed.
This partisan view was on display at the recent political conventions.
Mitt Romney mocked the notion of climate change by saying, "President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans, and to heal the planet. My promise ... is to help you and your family."
Obama, for his part, told Democrats in Charlotte that “My plan will continue to reduce the carbon pollution that is heating our planet — because climate change is not a hoax. More droughts and floods and wildfires are not a joke. They are a threat to our children’s future, and in this election you can do something about it.”
The truth, from my perspective, is that environmental sustainability goes way beyond "feeling good about being green." It represents real business opportunities for positive economic growth — a convergence of pro-growth and pro-environment sentiments. It leads to improved public and environmental health, and long-term benefits in terms of the triple-bottom-line — people, planet, and profits. The EPA has a role to play in protecting public and environmental health while businesses develop innovative solutions to long-term environmental problems, thus promoting sustainable economic growth. Proposals by republicans in congress to assess the cost to businesses of any new environmental regulations should include external factors that are typically ignored, including benefits to public health, services provided by environmental systems, and enhanced societal well-being.
That’s obviously not the way a number of Republicans perceive things, however.
In fact, according to a recent minority (Democratic) report of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, of the 315 anti-environment votes cast by the GOP in the current Congress, 144 targeted the EPA; 80 targeted the Department of the Interior; and 55 targeted the Department of Energy.
There is no indication that the Republicans’ antipathy toward the EPA will subside in 2013; nor is there any indication that the Democrats’ determination to defend the environment — and the EPA — will weaken.
And, so, we may well be in for another few years of legislative gridlock when it comes to environmental policy — no matter who occupies the White House after January 20.