Yesterday we had the good fortune to have a small-group meeting with Mike Boots, Acting Head of the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ). Initiated by our friends on the Duke Observer Delegation to COP20/CMP10, this gathering gave the CEQ an opportunity to hear observations from us, a range of U.S. university and law school students engaged in the international climate change negotiations. Likewise we gained perspective on the CEQ’s domestic and international climate change policymaking agenda.
After setting the foundation on the CEQ’s role in environmental advising to our environmentalist-in-chief (vs. the EPA’s role in enviro law making and enforcement), Mike focused his remarks on the Obama Administration’s three-pronged climate change strategy laid out in the President’s Climate Action Plan (PCAP). As explained earlier on this blog, the legs of this stool are mitigation (“Cut carbon pollution in America”), resilience/adaptation (“Preparing the U.S. for the impacts of climate change”), and international leadership (“Lead international efforts to combat climate change”).
One take home message was clear: the U.S. cannot lead internationally without first getting its climate change mitigation act together domestically. To that end, after a marked period of state climate leadership from 2000-2008, Mike pointed out the progressive and deliberate tilt toward national policymaking. Clear examples are the revised CAFÉ standards to mitigate emissions from the transport sector (first with cars, then with trucks) and a focus on reducing GHGs from buildings. Building on first term successes, the White House seeks to turn to the more thorny regulation of electricity from coal-fired plants. The centerpiece of this effort is the EPA’s Clean Power Plan Rule, which after its promulgation last summer, received more than a million comments. Viewed as “dispersed and flexible,” the draft rule was proposed at a “ripe time” fueled by developments on both coasts, like Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative in the east and the Pacific Coast Action Plan in the west. As the CEQ phrased it, all of this “advice” on what the draft rule got right and where it can improve will now be considered as the EPA finalizes the rule and prepares to defend it in litigation – all by summer 2015.
Another message was legacy. By developing a comprehensive strategy in PCAP and then gradually implementing it, the CEQ seeks to embed best practices that will prove “durable” after the Obama Administration leaves office. Looking at the resilience/adaptation leg of the stool, the CEQ’s recent guidance for federal agencies when responding after natural disasters provides a good example of working toward this goal. Learning from critiques of federal responses to Hurricanes Sandy and Irene, this report seeks to shift individual agency thinking toward building and rebuilding in stronger and safer ways. Likewise the CEQ’s Climate Resilience Toolkit.
Given that the two dozen students and professors were talking with Mike Boots in a meeting room in the COP20/CMP10 venue, the Obama Administration’s international climate change agenda was on everyone’s minds, notably the US-China bilateral announcement covered by our blog here, here, and here which catapulted two of the world’s largest GHG emitters into climate change mitigation leaders just moments before coming to Lima. Given the shift to nationally determined contributions in the 2015 agreement, the linking of national climate change policymaking with international negotiation is reflected in the CEQ’s staffing model.