Lawyers are tempering their hopes with some financial reality. Budget issues, including tax reform, could sap all the legislative energy, depending on what happens with the lame duck session negotiations to avert the "fiscal cliff," a mix of mandated tax increases and spending cuts set to go into effect at the start of 2013.
Bills on larger climate issues, such as a cap-and-trade law or a carbon tax bill, are unlikely to be successful, Greene and Bernhardt said.
But the Obama administration is looking to have some energy and environmental issues addressed this term as part of shaping the legacy of his presidency, Bernhardt said. Obama said in the past year that energy would be a focus in his second term, telling voters during the October 23 presidential debate, "I want to control our own energy by developing oil and natural gas but also the energy sources of the future."
But Obama's relationship with Congress on energy issues was not warm during his first term. A top White House aide on energy, Heather Zichal, spoke at renewable energy conference RETECH 2012 in October and said the president wants to "hit the reset button with Congress."
Zichal said the administration wants to avoid "boom and bust" cycles in green energy and ensure that natural gas production proceeds safely and responsibly, according to a report on her speech by The Hill. The White House did not respond to requests for an interview with Zichal.
Greene said the Senate is the best chance for a bill, because the Republican-led House is likely to focus on its same pro-coal, anti-Environmental Protection Act agenda. If any legislation is ultimately successful, the House would have to follow the lead of a Senate bill, he said.
The Senate bill would likely include a pro-nuclear component, such as allowing for smaller, more modular plants or loan guarantees to build new plants and a clean-coal component such as promoting carbon capture, Greene and his colleagues at Patton Boggs predicted in a post-election report.
Sensitive environmental concerns related to hydraulic-fracturing operations would mean water policy issues could be included along with any provisions that boost compressed natural gas production, the Patton Boggs attorneys said in their report.
Segal said during the webinar last month that a number of regulations were bottled up pending the outcome of the election, and Obama could use some of those to push his energy agenda in the first part of the year even without Congress. Those issues include the power sector and its use of coal, regional haze regulation in the West, new source performance standards for power plants and the finalization of carbon standards for new power plants, Segal said.
Other major initiatives, he said, include reforming national ambient air quality standards for ozone and particulate matter; rules on cooling towers and affluent guidelines under the Clean Water Act; and the status of coal ash under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act.
Bernhardt said he first will be watching what happens on the fiscal side for instance, how renewable energy is treated in any fiscal package agreement between Congress and the White House. "Depending on how that goes, it could either hamper or be a positive outcome on trailing legislation," Bernhardt said.