Major Garrett contends in a National Journal column that President Obama’s efforts to establish his legacy have interesting implications for the Democrats who would like to become the 45th president.

President Obama is fond of saying he’s not on the ballot again, because it deceptively suggests he’s no longer acting politically or with calculation for the next election.

Obama isn’t running for reelection, but he is methodically setting the stage on which Democrats will fight for the nomination and the presidency in 2015 and 2016. Democrats who wish to succeed Obama will have to either align themselves with, or distance themselves from, his policies and methods while they court donors, votes, and momentum through 2015.

Indeed, the Obama legacy is already on the march and will be a real-time factor in the prenominating battle. It could also pose significant policy tangles for the Democratic nominee in 2016. Consider the issues Obama has set in motion that will ripen politically when the battle for the Democratic nomination goes blood-sport in late 2014.

Climate change comes first. With Obama’s speech Tuesday, he has thrown down the gauntlet on using the regulatory reach of the Environmental Protection Agency to limit carbon emissions at existing coal-fired power plants. Obama’s goal is a proposal from EPA and the states by June 2014 and a final rule implementing the carbon-emission cuts by June 2015. However, Obama’s rules for limiting carbon dioxide from future power plants are way behind the original schedule (and may not be seen until September).

And remember, most of the gains achieved in reducing U.S. pollution arose from the recession, which cut electricity demand, and the greater use of natural gas to fuel power plants. A growing economy will curtail that misleading progress and put real costs next to real benefits: Limits on carbon-dioxide pollution will lead to higher utility bills. Litigation and congressional scrutiny—possibly legislation to block pollution rules for existing plants—will put the issue of federal environmental regulation and its costs and benefits squarely in the 2015 and 2016 presidential conversation, and not just in coal country.