WASHINGTON – Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and majority leader, is urging governors to defy President Obama by refusing to implement the administration’s global warming regulations.
In an op-ed article published Wednesday in The Lexington Herald-Leader with the headline, “States should reject Obama mandate for clean-power regulations,” Mr. McConnell wrote: “The Obama administration’s so-called ‘clean power’ regulation seeks to shut down more of America’s power generation under the guise of protecting the climate.” He added, “Don’t be complicit in the administration’s attack on the middle class.”
As Mr. Obama pushes an aggressive climate change agenda, the Environmental Protection Agency has proposed regulations to slash greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of planet-warming pollution. The rules, which the E.P.A. expects to be final this summer, would require each state to submit a plan detailing how it would cut coal-fired power plant pollution. Once implemented, the plans could lead to the closing of hundreds of coal plants, in what the administration says will be a transformation of the nation’s energy economy away from fossil fuels and toward sources like wind and solar.
States that rely heavily on coal production or coal-fired electricity are wary of the plan, which could ultimately freeze demand for coal. Already, 12 states, including Mr. McConnell’s home state, have filed lawsuits opposing the plan and at least a dozen more are expected to file similar suits.
But Mr. McConnell urged governors to fight the regulations by simply refusing to submit their state plans to the federal government.
“Think twice before submitting a state plan – which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits – when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won’t be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism,” Mr. McConnell wrote.
Since the moment his party regained control of the Senate, Mr. McConnell has made clear that he intends to use all legal, legislative and political means available to fight Mr. Obama’s climate agenda. While Republicans called Mr. Obama’s climate change policies an example of government overreach that could threaten jobs in the coal industry, Mr. McConnell, whose home state is one of the nations’ largest producers and consumers of coal, takes the fight personally.
For now, it appears unlikely that Mr. McConnell will be able to use his role as majority leader to completely block the rules. Even if Republicans could summon the majority required to pass legislation that would delay or weaken the rules, Mr. Obama is almost certain to veto such measures. Republicans are unlikely to have the two-thirds majority necessary to override that action.
Democrats said that Mr. McConnell’s call for states not to prepare plans appears unprecedented. Under the terms of the Clean Air Act, the executive branch is required to issue the carbon pollution rules. The Supreme Court has upheld that requirement.
“It’s unprecedented that a leader in the Senate would call on states to disobey the law, which has been upheld many times by the Supreme Court,” said Senator Barbara Boxer of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee. “I can’t recall a majority leader calling on states to disobey the law – and I’ve been here almost 24 years,” she said.
Gina McCarthy, the administrator of the E.P.A., said that the agency had been working closely with states to develop their individual plans “since well before we put pen to paper on this rule,” and that she expected to continue to do so. “We have dialogue with all the states, including the state of Kentucky,” she said.
However, Ms. McCarthy’s agency is already preparing a one-size-fits-all compliance plan that would be imposed on states that do not create plans.
Jody Freeman, director of Harvard University’s environmental law program and a former senior counselor to President Obama, said that option would be worse for states than simply preparing and submitting their own plans.
“It would put states at a huge disadvantage if they choose not to file a plan,” she said. “It gives E.P.A. the option of implementing their own plan themselves, but the E.P.A. may not have the best plan for each state. States should be designing these plans themselves.”
Historically, states that have refused to submit compliance plans for E.P.A. rules have been forced to follow standards crafted by the department’s officials in Washington. Former Gov. Rick Perry of Texas, a longtime opponent of the department’s pollution regulations, for instance, refused to submit state-level plans for compliance to other rules. In the end, Texas businesses were eventually forced to comply with the federally imposed plan.
The Obama administration is anticipating a protracted legal battle over the rules. In its fiscal year 2016 request to Congress, the E.P.A. asked for $3.5 million to hire 20 new lawyers to defend the new regulations.
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