President Obama didn't detail any new domestic policies or plans regarding his climate or energy agenda during his State of the Union address, but he pledged to take a leading role on international climate negotiations this year.
The lack of new proposals is largely because Obama has already proposed much of what he wants to do on climate and energy to close out his second term. And given there's less than two years left of it, there isn't much time to issue new rules.
Environmental groups were heartened by the speech, in which Obama said "no challenge poses a greater threat to future generations than climate change," and saw it as an extension of policies his administration has proposed over the past 18 months.
"I think what we're looking for is follow through on the commitments that the president has already made," Michael Obeiter, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute, told the Washington Examiner.
As far as new pledges go, the international arena could hold the best prospects. Obama said in his speech that he intends to use the global stage to build momentum for United Nations-hosted climate talks in December.
"I am determined to make sure American leadership drives international action," Obama said.
Obama referred to a non-binding pact the White House struck with Chinese President Xi Jinping in the fall, which got the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter to set a goal for reducing emissions for the first time. Other deals may be on the horizon, as Obama is due to meet with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi this month. Climate change is expected to be a topic for the world's second- and third-biggest emitters of greenhouse gases, which scientists say drive manmade climate change.
"Because the world’s two largest economies came together, other nations are now stepping up, and offering hope that, this year, the world will finally reach an agreement to protect the one planet we’ve got," Obama said.
Nations hope to strike a deal governing emissions beyond 2020 at the Paris negotiations in hope of keeping global temperatures from rising 2 degrees Celsius by 2100, though scientists say the prospects of doing so are grim.
Ensuring his domestic climate agenda goes smoothly is also key to that international process, said Marty Durbin, president of America's Natural Gas Alliance.
"I think all of their executive actions on their 'Climate Action Plan' and 'Clean Power Plan' they see clearly as establishing some credibility for them as they head into the Paris talks," Durbin told the Examiner.
Topping Obama's environmental agenda is finishing a rule governing carbon emissions from power plants. The Environmental Protection Agency delayed completion of the rule until mid-summer, and it will surely face a lawsuit.
Bob Perciasepe, the EPA's former No. 2 official, said the administration could begin working more closely with states on plans to comply with the regulation, which sets individual emissions reduction targets for electricity sectors by asking states to rely on a combination of improving efficiency at power plants, adding renewable energy, transitioning to using natural gas-fired power and bolstering energy efficiency.
"They can help states get started on that, and also do some of the economic analysis to help states look at the market mechanisms" that could be used to comply with the rule, Perciasepe, who is now president with the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, told the Examiner.
The White House will formally propose and finish some regulations this year and next but likely won't have time for significant new undertakings.
One that would tighten the amount of ozone allowed in the atmosphere will be the subject of frenzied lobbying. Public health officials say updating the standard is key for preventing heart and respiratory ailments. It will be a big focus for industry groups, which say the ozone level the administration has suggested could stifle manufacturing and growth.
"It's not the easiest thing in the world, but it's relatively easy to communicate to the average American," Christopher Guith, senior vice president for policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Institute for 21st Century Energy, which opposes lowering the ozone limit, told the Examiner.
The administration said earlier this month that it would soon propose regulations controlling methane emissions from new oil and gas wells in an attempt to reduce leaks of the potent greenhouse gas. It also said it would propose a rule to prevent "venting" and "flaring" of excess natural gas produced on federal lands through hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.
Environmentalists said targeting new wells wasn't enough to reach the White House goal of curbing methane emissions from the sector by at least 40 percent within the next decade. They have pressed the EPA to regulate the existing wells that account for 90 percent of methane emissions.
But officials in the natural gas industry are fighting the prospects of regulations. The industry has criticized the White House for heading down the regulatory path, as they have noted Obama has leaned on natural gas — which has half the carbon content of coal — to achieve the administration's climate change goal for power plants.
"We're making really clear that you've got an industry that's already very well informed on this," Durbin said. "We've got the best record out there."
The administration also is expected to release its five-year offshore drilling plan, which would run through 2022, as early as this week.
Guith said he expected the plan to include some areas off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina, but not all of the Atlantic Ocean's outer continental shelf. Drilling in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico is also expected to remain off-limits, while some limited drilling might be permitted in Alaska's Beaufort and Chukchi seas.
"At this point we're all assuming it will be slightly larger than the existing footprint, but it won't be expansive," he said.