Parallels with other mandates
Several former EPA employees compared the challenges facing the agency to those it confronted in the past when Congress ordered ramped-up clean air and water protections.
"I think being at EPA in 2010 or 2011, whenever legislation passes, will be very reminiscent of the 1970s," said Roger Martella, former general counsel at EPA under President George W. Bush and now a partner at Sidley Austin.
"They'll be faced with the challenge of developing first-time solutions to a problem much more complicated than they've ever seen before, and I don't think that's lost on many people working on climate issues in the halls of EPA," Martella said. "I think they reflect frequently on the challenges that their predecessors faced early in EPA and look for direction on how EPA faced those novel challenges at that time."
Vickie Patton, a senior attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund, compared the situation to the one the agency faced after President George H.W. Bush signed the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments into law.
The 800-page amendments addressed a wide range of pollution problems – from acid rain to toxics and automobile tailpipe emissions. Patton joined EPA as a staff attorney in the general counsel's office in 1990, just after the Clean Air Act amendments became law.
"The scope of work that the agency faced in 1990 was really quite extensive, but at the same time, the agency was given additional resources to get the work done, and it was really buffeted and bolstered by a sense of just congressional and presidential leadership – a sense that the country was committed to providing healthier air and the agency needed to just buckle down and work with stakeholders to get the job done," she said.
"The agency rose to the challenge," she said, in part because of the leadership of then-Administrator William Riley and William Rosenberg, who was then assistant administrator for EPA's air office.
Patton said she expects Administrator Lisa Jackson and McCarthy to also rise to the challenge.
"If you look at the senior ranks of EPA, you have Administrator Jackson and Assistant Administrator McCarthy, who have been at the cutting edge of climate policy in the states, so they bring with them this really far-reaching experience, and that will, I think, provide a critical foundation for EPA as it is developing and carrying out federal policies."
Other agencies face new mandates
Other agencies with jurisdiction over issues ranging from transportation to energy to science would be tasked with new projects under the draft bill.
The House climate draft would significantly expand the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission's oversight duties by placing the carbon offset markets in the agency's jurisdiction. This new oversight would require a jump in the level of resources and staff levels for the agency that has already grown considerably since the 2005 Energy Policy Act boosted its enforcement and reliability duties. FERC currently has a budget of about $270 million – all of which is paid for by utility fees – and 1,400 employees to handle its current mission to oversee the wholesale markets, reliability, enforcement and interstate transmission of oil, gas and electricity.
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission would face a similar need for additional resources if it ends up with jurisdiction over the carbon offsets or futures markets instead of FERC, which some lawmakers would prefer.
The Energy Department would be charged with a series of measures to improve energy efficiency, including updating building codes at least every three years, verifying that states have updated their building codes to the most stringent ones used today and ensuring that utilities are in compliance with the Renewable Electricity Standard and Energy Efficiency Resource Standard.