It has been just over three years since President Obama announced his extensive climate change agenda, called the Climate Action Plan.
The plan was his answer to Congress’ failure to pass comprehensive climate legislation, after action stalled in the Senate during his first term. Instead of relying on Congress, with its increased Republican opposition, Obama decided to enact regulations using his executive authority to meet his climate goals.
The Climate Action Plan directed the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department and other Cabinet-level agencies to begin working on new regulations, while speeding up existing programs to reduce greenhouse gases, which many scientists blame for driving man-made climate change.
The most notorious piece of the president’s plan is the rules for existing power plants, called the Clean Power Plan. The regulations for the first time use the EPA’s authority to hold states accountable for regulating carbon dioxide emissions, rather than just the owners and operators of power plants. While the EPA says it is not the most expensive of Obama’s climate rules, many critics beg to differ.
In addition to the Clean Power Plan, the president implemented rules that place a de facto ban on building new power plants by making the cost of compliance so high, no utility would want to build a coal-fired facility.
Meanwhile, the Department of Energy was charged with expediting energy-efficiency standards for appliances, placing more stringent requirements on manufacturers.
Increasingly stringent regulations for building low-emission vehicles are also a big part of the president’s agenda, including new rules that go into effect when model-year 2017 cars hit showroom floors.
The cost of the regulations is high, with critics arguing that the rules won’t do much to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising.
Other rules outside of the president’s climate plan, such as those for smog-forming ozone emissions, have been criticized by business groups as the most costly regulations in history because of their potential far-reaching impact on cities’ and regions’ economic growth. But there is no government pricetag for the rules, because the EPA said in the final 2015 rule that it does not have to assess their cost.
Below is a list of seven of the most expensive rules that have been finalized under Obama’s climate plan, even though court action has put some of the major moves on ice for now.
1. Vehicle rules, $156 billion
Is there a Prius in your future? Automakers hope there is, and the EPA is counting on it to meet its new fuel efficiency and emissions standards. But if you do buy into a hybrid-electric future, it is likely to cost you more, because the technologies needed to meet Obama’s goals come at a premium.
As part of his Climate Action Plan, Obama wants passenger vehicles, from sport utility vehicles and pickup trucks to compact cars and convertibles, to emit less carbon dioxide, responding to what he describes as “the country’s critical need to address global climate change and to reduce oil consumption.” That comes at a total cost of $156 billion — on top of the previous $51.8 billion from earlier in his administration (more on this below).
Once implemented in the 2017 model year fleet, which will start hitting sales lots any day, the EPA rules will seek to reach emission reductions of 163 grams per mile of carbon dioxide (CO2) by 2025. That’s equivalent to 54.5 miles per gallon if the reductions were achieved solely through improvements in fuel efficiency. The reductions would be met by hitting the per-gallon target by the time the program finishes in 2025.
The rules build on the first phase of the program, which applies to vehicle model-years 2012-16, and are key to meeting the country’s obligations under the Paris climate change deal to stave off a global temperature rise of 2 degrees Celsius.
The auto rules for the first time include a “midterm review,” which the automakers asked the EPA to include, to assess whether or not they can achieve the standard based on the level of technological advancement required and market factors, such as demand for fuel-efficient and electric cars.
The rule also lets auto manufacturers obtain bigger compliance credits based on the number of electric cars they build. The EPA believes more battery-electric cars will be needed to meet the emissions target over the next eight years. The rules are designed to encourage the quick adoption of low-emission electric cars, while making more hybrid designs available in larger gasoline-consuming vehicles such as pickup trucks.
The problem for the administration and automakers is that sales are weak for vehicles with higher fuel efficiency and lower emissions, as cheap gasoline drives consumers toward larger, gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles. And the automakers and the Energy Department have expressed concern about their ability to meet the targets.