In 2007, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was required to regulate carbon dioxide emissions under the Clean Air Act, as long as it found that such emissions threatened human health and welfare. Since the vast majority of scientists believe that excess carbon dioxide emissions are largely responsible for climate change, the EPA has been pushing to regulate them ever since.
Recently, the Obama Administration announced that it would be taking the Supreme Court's ruling to its natural conclusion. As reported by the New York Times, the White House has ordered the agency to write new regulations that will spur the creation of state cap-and-trade programs and cut carbon emissions from coal-fired plants by as much as 20 percent.
The Obama Administration has made environmental regulation a priority for years, but many of its early attempts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions failed to gain traction in Congress. For example, though the House of Representatives approved a bill to establish a national cap-and-trade program in 2009, the proposal was blocked by a filibuster in the Senate. Since then, the president has indicated a willingness to work around Congress where legally possible.
Though the public tends to pay more attention to the impact that cars have on carbon emissions, the vast majority of greenhouse gases still come from coal plants. In recent years, the falling price of natural gas has pushed many coal plants to either switch their fuel source or shut down altogether. As cap-and-trade systems develop and require utilities to buy permits for the emissions that they generate, this trend is expected to continue.
Energy companies can survive and even thrive under new environmental regulations. But they will need to work with an environmental consultant to develop a workable plan to maintain compliance while keeping costs as low as possible.