By Sam Crockett Neel | 63 Am. U. L. Rev. 1661 (2014)

United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a Democrat from Rhode Island, has called himself “the most optimistic person in Congress” about Congress’s ability to tackle climate change. Senator Whitehouse was elected to the Senate in 2006, a year in which Democrats won control of both the Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. Considering that the outgoing Republican chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, stated that climate change was the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people,” and incoming Democratic chairwoman Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, made addressing climate change a top priority, environmentalists hoped that legislative action on climate change was in sight. The House of Representatives passed an Obama Administration-approved cap-and-trade bill, the “American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009,” but the bill never moved in the Senate. Thus, over eight years later, including two years in which Democrats controlled the White House and both houses of Congress, Senator Whitehouse had to use the words “we can do this,” rather than “we did this,” when discussing climate change legislation that would cap carbon pollution. However, Senator Whitehouse remains optimistic despite Congress’s inability to pass meaningful legislation in the past eight years.

This Note begins with a background on domestic climate change law and policy, focusing on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act and resulting litigation. Second, this Note proceeds to analyze public opinion on climate change and comments on the potential success of efforts to shape legislative discourse on climate change. Finally, this Note concludes that an upcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on the extent of the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases and the 2014 midterm elections will determine the fate of climate action for the foreseeable future.

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