(Bloomberg) -- The make-up of the U.S. Senate defined President Barack Obama’s limited ability to enact energy and environmental policies. The same may be true, though to a lesser extent, for Donald Trump.
Republicans lost one seat in the upper chamber, leaving them still in control with a 51 to 47 majority over Democrats (two races remain unresolved). But arcane Senate rules make it difficult for legislation to pass—or even reach a vote—without at least 60 senators okaying the procedure. Assuming Democrats remain unified in their opposition, Trump, 70, will still face an ossified Senate when it comes to passing legislation on matters related to energy, environment, and climate change.
That leaves the billionaire real estate tycoon, a denier of global warming who contends that it’s a hoax perpetrated by China, with a similar set of frustrations faced by Obama. The president-elect can of course issue and rescind executive orders, which direct policy for executive-branch operations, and also control the technocratic rule-making process across relevant federal agencies. These include the Environmental Protection Agency, the Department of the Interior, the Department of Energy, NASA, and the Commerce Department, which houses the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Here is a guide to Obama’s signature programs that are likely to face Trump’s scrutiny or wholesale reversal.
The Paris Agreement: The pact to reduce climate pollution, joined by almost 200 nations, entered into force Friday. With diplomats convening this week in Morocco to discuss tightening the Paris goals and how nations can monitor each other, the election has cast tremendous doubt on America’s commitment, and thus the pact’s survival. The combined leadership of Obama and Chinese premier Xi Jinping created the political opportunity for the agreement to exist. If Trump just ignores it, or formally pulls out, it will likely be enough to shatter the already-fragile coalition.
Clean Power Plan: Obama’s signature domestic climate program is a complex regulation that provides states with pollution-reduction targets for existing power plants, and guidance to achieve them. The U.S. Supreme Court put implementation of the rules on hold as a legal challenge unfolds. Proposed or final regulations on carbon dioxide standards for new power plants, car fuel-efficiency rules, limits on oil-and-gas industry methane leaks, and myriad other requirements all face scrutiny in the new administration. Trump has said he would dissolve much or all of the EPA as president, and Republicans in Congress have lined up with groups suing to overturn the Clean Power Plan. The administration may simply choose to cease defending the new rule if a federal appeals court overturns it. And any subsequent appeal by the government, states, or environmentalists may come before a newly reconstituted U.S. Supreme Court, with a conservative replacement for Antonin Scalia making its survival unlikely.
“Soft” Energy and Climate Policy Issues: The Obama administration has taken every opportunity to promote renewable energy, efficiency, research, and public-private dialogue. By October, more than 80 businesses, totaling $5 trillion in market cap, had signed on to a White House initiative pledging to bring their operations in line with Paris climate goals. The Department of Energy has offered loan guarantees that launched many successful renewable energy companies (and a few famous duds), poured investment into high-end energy technology research, and tightened standards to make appliances more efficient. These “soft” initiatives, in many cases voluntary and geared toward extending discussion of climate and energy issues far into the economy, are unlikely to be matched, or even continued.
That and related unknowns are the biggest questions at the moment: How quickly can rules be unwound? Not fast under existing federal rules. How serious was Trump about his most dramatic or even erratic campaign statements, about man-made global warming—which exists—or about resurrecting coal in the face of historically low natural-gas prices? Time will tell.