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The First 100 Days, Energy Edition

The New York Times' new energy blog has a useful roundtable of energy experts pondering what Obama's victory will mean for energy policy. Among other points, Dan Weiss of the Center for American Progress has some advice for the first 100 days:

The most immediate priorities should include:

1) Enactment of an economic stimulus package that includes clean energy measures that will increase jobs, while decreasing energy use and bills. This would include funds for weatherization of schools and low-income homes, pending transit projects and other similar efficiency programs.

2) Approval of California’s petition to set greenhouse gas limits for motor vehicles, which 16 other states will also adopt.

3) Approval of an “endangerment finding” under the Clean Air Act, which would enable E.P.A. to begin to control greenhouse gases from power plants and other sources. The Supreme Court set this in motion with the decision in Massachusetts v. E.P.A.

Agreed, agreed, and... agreed. To look at this more broadly, I don't think the prospect of a severe recession is a good reason for Obama to scrap his proposal for a cap-and-trade regime on greenhouse gases (I'll have more on this point later). But even if he does go full steam ahead with his climate ideas, it'll take many months for the relevant committees to draft the bill, many months to get the thing debated and amended, and even after it finally passes in 2009 or 2010 or 2011, we're talking at least a few years before the cap comes into effect—these things do take time to set up. In the interim, then, there are plenty of things the Obama administration can start doing to ratchet down carbon-dioxide emissions. Like letting California and other states increase fuel-economy standards. Or upgrading the national grid.

Now, as we've discussed before, Weiss's point #3 above is the big enchilada, and something Obama advisers have discussed publicly. Like Bill Kovacs of the Chamber of Commerce, I do think that having the EPA regulating greenhouse gases under the old Clean Air Act could get sloppy—although Kovacs is veering a bit too far toward the melodramatic with this worst-case scenario—but one very basic thing the EPA should get started on immediately is simply measuring emissions from various point sources. Right now, good national data is hard to come by, and the EPA can build on the state-level climate registries. Also, yes, as soon as the EPA starts complying with the Supreme Court's decision and cracking down on CO2, Congress—along with every business lobbyist on K Street—is likely to freak out and rush in with a legislative alternative. It's one reason I sort of doubt that Senate Republicans will be able to sit in their easy chairs and filibuster climate legislation for the next four years.

--Bradford Plumer