But if the tax-reform debate ends without comprehensive new energy provisions, it may be too late to enact an energy overhaul. “If President Obama has victories on immigration and the deficit, that’s two potentially momentous victories for the president in a second term, where victories are not typical,” says historian Alfred Zacher, author of Trial and Triumph: Presidential Power in the Second Term. “It’s difficult to believe he’d win three.”
Still, Zacher says, “because of his desire for a legacy, and the fact that he won’t need to worry about his base or reelection, he could come up with some unexpected environmental solutions. He’ll have to be a very capable politician, but if he can pull it off, he’ll be revered.” Ultimately, as Dorgan puts it, “there needs to be a will to do it, and it needs to come from the president and the leaders of Congress. If there’s not a will on the part of the president and the leaders of the House and Senate, it won’t happen. He needs to make it a priority.” If President Obama wants a legacy on energy, he’ll have to bring to the issue the same passion that candidate Obama once did.
Heather Zichal: A deputy assistant to the president, Zichal succeeded Carol Browner as Obama’s top energy adviser last year. She has good relationships with environmental and industry groups.
Steven Chu: The embattled Energy secretary championed fighting climate change and promoting clean energy, but his tenure was tarnished by the Solyndra controversy. He will probably step down during the second term.
Ken Salazar: The Interior secretary’s reputation suffered after the Gulf oil spill. Now he will oversee the administration’s leasing of federal lands and waters for renewable-energy development—as well as new offshore drilling.
Lisa Jackson: Republicans who attacked “job-killing” regulations during the 2012 campaign made Jackson, the Environmental Protection Agency chief, a top target. It’s widely believed that she will depart in Obama’s second term.
UP: EPA regulations: During the 2012 campaign, the Obama administration sat on a slew of controversial clean-air regulations, including rules aimed at slashing smog and soot pollution from power plants. These are expected to roll out briskly in the new term.
DOWN: Carbon tax: There’s an upswell of support among economists, think tanks, and other Washington influentials to incorporate a carbon tax into next year’s tax-reform effort. But the idea has yet to gain a champion on Capitol Hill.
STATIC: Keystone XL pipeline: The State Department is expected to issue a final decision on the pipeline in 2013. Environmental groups want Obama to reject it, but he may approve it as part of a “grand bargain” with Republicans.
This is the third in a series of stories on the challenges facing President Obama in his second term.
This article appears in the Dec. 8, 2012, edition of National Journal as Powering Up.