Any action to restrict greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions will primarily come at the regulatory level rather than in Congress this year, said an official with the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA). The would likely be the best route for President Obama, who started his second term Monday, to make effective climate changes.

“The administration will likely initiate a lot of regulatory steps dealing with climate change,” principally through the Environmental Protection Agency], said Lee Fuller, IPAA’s vice president of government relations. The Obama administration has generally been able to get those regulatory actions sustained by the courts, he noted.

In his inauguration address Monday, President Obama made clear that climate change will top his agenda in the second term. “We will respond to the threat of climate change, knowing that the failure to do so would betray our children and future generations,” Obama said.

“I’m sure there will be a lot of visibility on the issue in Congress.” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has already announced she wants to hold hearings on the issue, and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR), chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, has weighed in on the issue as well, according to Fuller.

But “it seems unlikely there will be support for a massive climate bill in Congress this year,” he noted. Bills will be introduced, but “I doubt legislation [will be] enacted.”

The United States in conjunction with Europe will not change the overall direction of GHG development. They need the support of China, India and other emerging nations to embrace restrictions on emissions, Fuller said.

Most of the large emission sources are coal-fired power plants and refineries. But the oil and gas industry is “going to come under a lot of attack [from the Sierra Club and other environmentalists] regardless of whether greenhouse gas is involved,” Fuller said.

To industry critics, the American Petroleum Institute (API) says that while climate change is a “real challenge,” oil and gas is “leading the way in lowering carbon emissions” due to the prolific supplies of gas brought on by the shale revolution and technological advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling.

“As a result, the amount of carbon dioxide being released into the atmosphere in the U.S. has fallen back to 1992 levels — that’s a 20-year low. Our industry is the largest single investor in low-and zero-carbon technologies,” the API said.

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