Obama re-election energizes environmental agenda

Voters supported an eco-minded measure to ban fracking for natural gas in Longmont, Colo., but rejected one to require boosting wind and solar energy in Michigan. A split verdict for the environment?

Perhaps, but the 2012 elections and especially President Obama’s victory suggest the nation’s energy and environmental agenda will largely continue in the same direction – not great news for backers of GOP Gov. Mitt Romney.

“Obama’s re-election will have a huge impact,” says David Kreutzer, an energy expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “We’ll see the continuation, and perhaps the acceleration, of anti-fossil fuels regulations,” he says, citing Environmental Protection Agency rules to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. Stock prices for coal companies, which could be affected by the rules, have fallen since the election.

Kreutzer expects Obama to reject the revised northern leg of the Canada-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline, which Romney supported, and to push for renewal of tax credits for utility-scale wind producers, which Romney opposed.

“We’re kind of back to where we were,” he says, noting that Congress remains split between a GOP-led House of Representatives that has balked at Obama’s efforts and a Democratic-controlled Senate that often can’t muster the 60 votes needed to end filibusters.

Yet environmentalists expect gains on Capitol Hill, citing the Senate victories of Democrats Martin Heinrich in New Mexico, Sherrod Brown in Ohio and Jon Tester in Montana. The wind industry hailed the Senate election of Independent Angus King, a former governor who became a wind project developer, in Maine.

“This will absolutely embolden the Senate,” says Heather Taylor, director of the NRDC Action Fund, the political advocacy arm of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. She says oil and gas interests spent hundreds of millions on campaign ads but have “nothing to show for it.”

Her camp cites other victories including the gubernatorial win in New Hampshire of Democrat Maggie Hassan, who backs her state’s participation in a nine- state cap-and-trade system to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Hassan’s GOP opponent, Ovide Lamontagne said he’d pull New Hampshire out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, known as RGGI.

In the Boulder suburb of Longmont, Colo., nearly 60 percent of voters supported a grassroots measure to ban hydraulic fracturing or fracking, the process by which natural gas is extracted from shale deposits.

But in Michigan, nearly two-thirds, or 63 percent, of voters rejected a ballot that would amend the state’s constitution to require that 25 percent of its electricity come from renewable sources by 2025.

Kreutzer says they voted against “higher electricity bills,” but Taylor says exit polling shows they rejected the measure mostly because they didn’t want to amend the constitution for it.

Whatever the reason, both sides are pushing their ideas. Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, called on Obama this week to expand domestic oil and natural gas production. Unlike Romney who supported opening all federal lands to drilling, Obama has opened some but not all.

“With both candidates supporting more development of America’s vast oil and natural gas resources, energy is a big winner in this election,” Gerard said in a statement.

Denise Bode, who heads the American Wind Energy Association, is rallying Democrats and Republicans to renew the production tax credit for wind farms, slated to expire at the end of December. She says the credit’s uncertainty has caused layoffs at wind farms and its expiration could kill 37,000 jobs within a year.

The environmental activist group 350.org will hold another White House rally on Nov. 18 to pressure Obama to block a revised northern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline.

Other environmentalists are calling on the EPA to finalize rules limiting carbon and soot pollution from new power plants as well as industrial or commercial boilers. They cited Obama’s victory speech early Wednesday when he talked about a future that would not be “threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

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