Wiley Rein's Weinberg says Obama win marks resurgence of aggressive regulation

Will President-elect Barack Obama's win usher in a period of aggressive climate regulation? How can the Clean Air Act be used to push Congress to act on climate? During today's OnPoint, David Weinberg, a partner and chairman of the Environment and Safety Practice at Wiley Rein, discusses the impact of Obama's election on energy and climate policies and the interaction between federal agencies. Weinberg also explains how the face of K Street will change in response to the Democratic majority and the Obama win.


Monica Trauzzi: Welcome to the show. I'm Monica Trauzzi. With us today is David Weinberg, a partner and chair of the environment and safety practice at Wiley Rein. David, thanks for coming on the show.

David Weinberg: My pleasure, thank you Monica.

Monica Trauzzi: David, high expectations for what President-elect Obama will be able to do on the energy and climate fronts. What's your reaction to the Obama win and what this means for these policies?

David Weinberg: While, I think it means a lot of activity, particularly on the regulatory front, probably more than people understand. The president-elect has got to deal with the economic situation we face and that probably puts a little slowdown on the legislative activity. But there's a lot of regulatory activity that could occur without incurring huge costs for the federal government right away.

Monica Trauzzi: So do you think there's going to be a lot of Republican resistance to the idea of more regulation?

David Weinberg: Perhaps some resistance on the general principle, but I suspected everybody recognizes how overwhelming the election was for the president and he's going to get a fair shake from both sides of the aisle as they move forward.

Monica Trauzzi: And you believe that, moving forward, one of the first things he's going to do is use the Clean Air Act?

David Weinberg: I think there's a good chance that that's what will happen. As you know, the Bush administration published an advance notice of proposed rulemaking in July that laid out the various ways in which the Clean Air Act could be used to address climate change issues. There are a lot of problems with the Clean Air Act to do that, use it in that way. But there are some mechanism comes that are available and by moving forward to implement those mechanisms, indirectly the administration also will push the Congress to move forward with legislation. The president-elect's people said during the election campaign that they saw that they would move from a regulatory front if there was a delay in moving on the legislative front and I think we will see that happen.

Monica Trauzzi: You are anticipating delays on the legislative front?

David Weinberg: Well, I think delays in the sense that clearly the number one issue that the Congress has to deal with is the economic situation. And the Clean Air programs, whether you do a cap-and-trade program or a carbon tax program, are expensive. They have a big price tag associated with them. It's going to be very hard to move those very quickly early in 2009 or even perhaps 2010.

Monica Trauzzi: That's a little surprising. A lot of people are looking at 2010 as the goal year for having something on the books. And, if that's going to happen, Congress really needs to get moving in 2009 to iron out the details of a piece of legislation.

David Weinberg: Well, I don't think there's any question Congress will get moving, I think how quickly it moves forward to actually impose the additional costs that come with something like a cap-and-trade program is really going to be influenced by the state of the economy as much as by the environmental policy considerations.

Monica Trauzzi: So, we might see more action on energy policy first before climate policy?

David Weinberg: I think you'll see action on a series of regulatory fronts that go to the climate issue. For example, the activity that we talked about a moment ago, the EPA could move forward under the air act. There are a series of rulemakings that could move forward under the Energy Security Act and under various other provisions the DOE has, the DOT could move forward on, all of which support the president-elect's goal of moving towards climate change activity, but don't require the massive expenditures that come with a cap-and-trade bill or with a carbon tax bill. And those things, I think, we will see move forward probably in a more coordinated fashion than has happened in the past.

Monica Trauzzi: What do you make of the recent news coming out of the House Energy and Commerce Committee? There's a little battle going on with Waxman and Dingell. Is this a signal of what the Democrats are looking to do next year in terms of climate change?

David Weinberg: I think it's a signal that the Democrats intend to do some important things. Both Congressman Waxman and Chairman Dingell have very good staff. Either one of them will be playing a very important role as this policy moves forward. They have certain priorities that are different and that affects the discussion that they're having now. But I think either way we're going to see some very competent people moving forward.

Monica Trauzzi: So, in terms of the transition period which we're in right now, what's the first thing you're looking for Obama to do in order to get the climate and energy stuff off the ground?

David Weinberg: Well, the first thing is probably happened already and is consistent with what was done in the campaign and that is, he has appointed somebody to be in charge of a cluster of issues. That cluster of issues are the EPA, Interior, and Energy. The fact that you see those three issues as directly related to each other indicates an integrated approach and it means that I think we can expect to see that kind of coordination going forward. And I think that's what we will see.

Monica Trauzzi: Right, because when you're talking about offshore drilling there's a combination of Department of Energy and Interior.

David Weinberg: You could talk about offshore drilling, you could talk about emissions. We're talking about vehicle standards. We're talking about both emissions from factories and also locating facilities and the implications of the Endangered Species Act. These are all very complicated things. We're in the process of writing some papers about them. They'll be up on our Web site. I don't want to sound like a politician. If anybody is interested in seeing how these regulatory things fit together they could go to our Web site and just hit Climate Change and they'll see all that material.

Monica Trauzzi: As you said, these are complicated issues. How important are the appointments that Obama is going to make for these key energy and environment positions in this administration?

David Weinberg: They're very important. And I think from a private-sector sampling, a business or industry standpoint, there's going to be a shift necessary in mindset a little bit. I think we're going to see some very smart people, people whose backgrounds may not be out of the business world, but more out of the policy world, think tanks or government agencies. They are going to be sufficiently open-minded, I think, to really consider all the implications of these policies. But the private sector representatives are going to have to be much more focused than has been necessary in the last few years on making their case with facts and dealing with skeptical government officials. We're not going to be able to get away with just slogans or anecdotal representations of things.

Monica Trauzzi: So, some changes coming to K Street?

David Weinberg: No question.

Monica Trauzzi: What role do you see Senator McCain playing in these climate discussions? It seems like this could be a very good opportunity for him.

David Weinberg: Well, Senator McCain has been a very strong supporter of cap-and-trade type legislation. The bill that the Senate considered last June was originally called a McCain bill. And I would expect that he's going to continue being focused on those matters.

Monica Trauzzi: Final question here. Where do you think the GOP stands today?

David Weinberg: Well, I'm not an expert on those sorts of things, but obviously you prefer to win elections rather than lose them and they had a pretty bad week.

Monica Trauzzi: All right, we'll end it right there. It will be an interesting few months ahead of us. Thanks for coming on the show.

David Weinberg: You're welcome, thank you.

Monica Trauzzi: And thanks for watching. We'll see you back here tomorrow.

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