Beth Slaninka

Capitol Building

Phil Roeder, Flickr

As the year comes to a close, it’s a good time to take stock of the progress made in climate change policy. In January, I provided an overview of what was expected to be the major policy actions on climate change. Here’s what actually happened in 2014:

  • President Obama’s decision on the Keystone XL Pipeline: The administration was expected to make a decision this year, but none has been made yet on TransCanada’s permit application. The 1,179-mile pipeline would transport crude oil from Canada to U.S. refineries. Environmentalists have fought the project for years, but proponents highlight the jobs and economic benefits. Since the pipeline crosses an international border, the State Department must sign off on the project. It is currently waiting for a decision from the Nebraska Supreme Court regarding the pipeline’s route.In the meantime, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill in mid-November directing the administration to move forward with the pipeline. A similar bill failed in the Senate by one vote a few days later. But Republican lawmakers—who will control the House and Senate starting in January—have made it clear that the pipeline is a priority and they will be taking the issue up in the next Congress.
  • EPA regulations for existing power plants: As expected, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued proposed rules to curb carbon emissions from existing power plants in June. My colleague Lindsay Kishter covered the basics in this post. Coal-state lawmakers are already discussing how they can eliminate, roll-back, or delay the regulations using their new Congressional majority. The emissions regulations for power plants were a key action highlighted in the president’s Climate Action Plan, so the administration will likely fight any efforts to block the regulations.
  •  The U.S. role in international climate negotiations: The Climate Action Plan calls for the U.S. to lead international efforts to address global climate change. It appears the president is following through. My colleague Brad Sinkaus recently wrote about a historic agreement between the U.S. and China to reduce carbon emissions in the coming decades. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has continued to release pieces of its fifth assessment throughout the year, with the final installment published in early November. This is leading up to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Paris next year and the potential for an international climate agreement. While the administration may want to take an active role in negotiations, the Senate is expected to be an obstacle, since two-thirds of the Senate must approve any treaties.
  • Climate change and the 2014 mid-term elections: As mentioned previously, Republicans increased their majority in the House and took control of the Senate in the 2014 mid-term elections. The legislative branch is likely to weigh in and/or take action on the Keystone XL Pipeline, EPA regulations, and international climate negotiations in 2015. Brad Plumer with Vox declared the climate the biggest loser of the election with the next Congress expected to be “even more hostile to climate policy than the last one.”

It’s fair to say that progress was made in addressing climate change. In many ways, actions taken this year have laid the groundwork for even bigger steps to be made in 2015. Next year, EPA regulations are finalized and go into effect, international negotiations move forward, and the administration continues its implementation of its Climate Action Plan with some key victories under its belt.