Times Square Ball

As the world prepares to collectively turn the calendar to 2016, it’s worth remembering some of the biggest moments in environmental news from this year. Here are five the world won’t soon forget:  

  1. Nearly 200 Nations Reach Global Agreement on Climate Change: It seemed all but impossible just a few short years ago, but in December nearly all of the world gathered in Paris and reached an international agreement to combat climate change. Building on years of bilateral work between the U.S. and major developing countries like India and China, observers said the agreement was not strong enough by itself to ward off the worst consequences of climate change, but did establish a framework that would allow the world to ratchet up its efforts to combat the problem. “The Paris Agreement is a monumental triumph for people and our planet,” Ban Ki-Moon, United Nations Secretary General, said.
  2. Obama Administration Finalizes the Clean Power Plan: From the moment President Obama announced his administration’s plan for tackling climate change in 2013, getting at carbon pollution from the nation’s fleet of power plants was key. Those efforts culminated this summer with the release of the final Clean Power Plan, which aims to curb carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. “This is the right thing to do,” Obama said in August. More than half the states are now challenging the rule in federal appeals court with litigation expected to last multiple years.
  3. Chemical Overhaul Nears the Finish Line: The U.S. neared the first major overhaul of an environmental statute in nearly 25 years with a revamp of the Toxic Substances Control Act, the nation’s primary chemical statute.  The Senate passed a broad bill, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act (S. 697), by unanimous consent in December, while the House advanced narrower legislation in June by a 398-1 vote. Both chambers must resolve differences between their versions in 2016, but observers are optimistic the bill will make it across the finish line.
  4. Keystone XL Pipeline Rejected: Capping a seven-year review process, President Obama rejected the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline in November. “America is now a global leader when it comes to taking serious action to fight climate change, and frankly, approving this project would have undercut that leadership,” the president said. The project became a key test for many in the environmental community for Obama’s commitment to climate change, while proponents of the project now say they’ll wait for the next president to revisit the pipeline.
  5. Battle Over the Clean Water Act’s Jurisdiction: In addition to its efforts on power plants, the EPA also finalized a major regulation attempting to clarify the scope and jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act.  Known first as the waters of the United States and then subsequently as the Clean Water Rule, the regulation immediately drew controversy. Well over half the states challenged the rule in federal court, the Senate passed a resolution nullifying it, and the EPA was found to have violated the law in promoting it through social media. A federal court put the rule on hold nationwide in October, so its future remains cloudy heading into the new year.