Obama's Climate-Plan Opponents Have Little Chance In Congress

Bloomberg BNA — Warning of catastrophic impacts to electricity reliability and the middle class, Republicans and coal-state Democrats vowed to fight the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed carbon pollution limits on power plants.

But enactment of any legislation designed to undermine the environmental regulations appears unlikely.

Shortly after the proposed rule's June 2 introduction, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) vowed to fight the EPA regulations, and Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) made a similar pledge in the House. House Energy and Commerce Committee leaders—Reps. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) and Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.)—also pledged to hold hearings on the proposed regulation during the week of June 15.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) told reporters June 2 he also expected the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to hold a hearing on the regulation. Manchin said he intends to speak with committee chairman Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) about holding a hearing.

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President Obama, in a call with public health groups, acknowledged strong attacks on the regulation would come but asked the groups to “work hard to build momentum” for the proposed rule.

“I promise you, you will hear from critics who say the same thing they always say, that these guidelines will kill jobs, or crush the economy,” Obama said. “What we've seen every time, is that these claims are debunked when you actually give workers and businesses the tools and the incentive they need to innovate.”

State-Specific Emissions Rates

The EPA's proposal, unveiled by Administrator Gina McCarthy, would set state-specific emissions rates that would need to be achieved by the power sector.

States would develop plans to meet the emissions rate that best suit their individual mix of electricity generation.

The plans could include improvements to the heat rate at individual power plants, emissions trading programs, switching from coal-fired units to lower emitting gas-fired generators or investing in renewable energy or demand-side reduction programs.

Confronting Coal

The EPA anticipates its proposal would reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

There are existing efforts in the House and Senate to block the EPA regulations, but even supporters acknowledge the efforts face steep odds against enactment with a Democratic president. There is strong interest in advancing S. 1905, which would block regulations on existing power plants until Congress specifically authorizes them, but bill proponent Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) told reporters again June 2 it would be difficult to secure the 60 votes needed to advance it.

Boehner Calls Proposal ‘Nuts’

The difficulty of overcoming a presidential veto in hopes of blocking the regulations won't stop members of Congress from trying. Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) condemned the EPA proposal in a June 2 proposal as “nuts.”

“The president's plan is nuts, there's really no more succinct way to describe it,” Boehner said in a statement. “The question now is: Will Senate Democrats listen to the American people and stop this disaster or will they back the president all the way?”

Boehner wants the Senate to consider S. 1905, a companion version of H.R. 3826 that cleared the House in March. Manchin told reporters June 2 he hasn't counted supporters of the legislation recently.

Multiple House and Senate Republicans faulted the EPA proposal for creating “all pain, no gain” by causing harm to the economy while providing minimal environmental benefits.

In the Senate, McConnell has indicated he will introduce legislation to block the EPA regulation over concerns it will further devastate the Kentucky economy and cost thousands of coal mining jobs. A spokesman told Bloomberg BNA McConnell will likely introduce his legislation June 3 but provided no additional details on its contents.

One option not yet available to McConnell will be the Congressional Review Act. The Government Accountability Office said May 29 a McConnell challenge to EPA's carbon pollution standards for future power plants couldn't proceed until the regulation became final.

‘Illegal Use' of Executive Power

Rand Paul, McConnell's Kentucky colleague, slammed the regulation for its potential impacts and called it “an illegal use of executive power.” He vowed to force a Senate vote to repeal the regulation.

In the House, Rahall said he is working with Rep. David McKinley (R-W.Va.) to introduce legislation that would “terminate” existing EPA power plant regulations and block the issuance of similar rules for at least the next five years without explicit congressional approval. McKinley told Bloomberg BNA last week he was considering a resolution of disapproval on the EPA guidelines.

“I think you're going to have a bipartisan response against the EPA regulations from today,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Bloomberg BNA. “You're going to see Democrats opposing this as well as Republicans.”

Other Democrats Vow Fierce Defense

Many House and Senate Democrats vowed to fiercely defend the EPA guidelines against Republican attacks. They described the EPA approach as a flexible and appropriate approach to addressing climate change and protecting human health.

Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a longtime advocate of climate action, told Bloomberg BNA he fully expected sustained attacks from Republicans on the proposal but was confident Democrats would defeat them.

“I think there's kind of an instinctive reflex to pretend this will hurt jobs, pretend this won't be good for the public, only look at one side of the ledger,” Whitehouse said, adding he was certain those attacks could be defeated.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) also told Bloomberg BNA he expected attacks on the EPA proposal but was optimistic they would be defeated.

A coalition of House Democrats also hailed the EPA proposed rules as significant in the fight against climate change.

“In light of Congressional Republicans' inability to recognize climate change and act in a responsible manner, we appreciate EPA stepping up and fulfilling its duty to protect generations now and in the future,” the House Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition, consisting of nearly 60 members, said in a statement.

Coal State Democrats Wary

Several Democratic senators, especially those from coal-reliant states facing reelection this fall, expressed wariness about the potential economic impacts of the regulation and said they would work with the EPA to improve the proposal.

“While it is important to reduce carbon in the atmosphere, this should not be achieved by EPA regulations,” Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), chairman of the Senate Energy Committee and running for reelection, said in a statement. “Congress should set the terms, goals and timeframe.”

Manchin said in a statement he would “stand ready” to work with the EPA and the Obama administration to develop “commonsense solutions that strike a balance between a prosperous economy and a cleaner environment.”

Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), also running for reelection, said in a statement he had “serious concerns” about the EPA proposal.

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