The senator from Kentucky, one of the nation’s largest coal producers, is working at stopping a set of EPA regulations requiring states to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired plants.
WASHINGTON — Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has begun an aggressive campaign to block President Obama’s climate-change agenda in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond McConnell’s official reach and authority.
The campaign of McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is aimed at stopping a set of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations requiring states to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation’s largest source of greenhouse-gas emissions.
Once enacted, the rules could shutter hundreds of coal plants in what Obama has promoted as a transformation of the nation’s energy economy away from fossil fuels and toward sources like wind and solar. McConnell, whose home state is one of the nation’s largest coal producers, has vowed to fight the rules.
Since McConnell is limited in how he can use his role in the Senate to block regulations, he has taken the unusual step of reaching out to governors with a legal blueprint for them to follow to stop the rules in their states. McConnell’s Senate staff, led by senior energy adviser, Neil Chatterjee, is coordinating with lawyers and lobbying firms to try to ensure that the state plans are tangled up in legal delays.
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On Thursday, McConnell sent to a detailed letter to every governor in the U.S. laying out a carefully researched legal argument as to why states should not comply with Obama’s regulations.
To make his case, McConnell is also relying on a network of powerful allies with national influence and roots in Kentucky or the coal industry. Within that network is Laurence Tribe, a highly regarded scholar of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and a former mentor of Obama’s.
Tribe caught McConnell’s attention last winter when he was retained to write a legal brief for Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal producer, in a lawsuit against the climate rules. In the brief, Tribe argued that Obama’s use of the existing Clean Air Act to put forth the climate-change regulations was unconstitutional.
McConnell’s strategy is also intended to undercut Obama’s position internationally as he tries to negotiate a global climate-change treaty to be signed in Paris in December. The idea is to create uncertainty in the minds of other world leaders as to whether the U.S. can follow through on its pledges to cut emissions.
“We’ve seen modern lobbying strategies that become a very large campaign, coordinated with states and localities, but we’ve never seen a Senate majority leader or House speaker in front of it,” said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington, D.C. “It’s quite clever. It’s sophisticated and unusual.”
Using its existing authority, the EPA will require each state to submit an individual plan for cutting emissions from power plants. Ultimately, the success or failure of the plan will depend on how — and if — states comply with the rules. It will also depend on the courts. Coal-dependent states and coal-mining companies are already planning legal challenges to the regulations.
Those coal-dependents states are where McConnell has trained his fire.
He opened his campaign March 3 with an op-ed article published in The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky with the headline, “States should reject Obama mandate for clean-power regulations.” McConnell urged governors to refuse to submit climate-change compliance plans to the EPA.
McConnell contends that the Obama administration has bypassed Congress and stretched the boundaries of existing law to impose climate-change regulations.
Advocates of Obama’s climate-change agenda called McConnell’s actions nearly unprecedented.
“Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges that we face, and instead of offering solutions, Sen. McConnell’s alternative is an inappropriate and unfounded attempt to dictate state decisions,” said Frank Benenati, a White House spokesman. “EPA is following the law by proposing clean-air standards to tackle the largest sources of carbon pollution — the power sector,” he said.
While some governors oppose the climate-change plan, others are preparing to comply. On Thursday, the National Governors Association announced that four states — Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Utah — would take part in a program designed to meet the climate-change regulations.
But longtime experts in the field of climate-change law and policy say that McConnell’s unconventional efforts could prove formidable.
“The majority leader is a master tactician,” said Scott Segal, a lobbyist with the law firm Bracewell and Giuliani and the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents power companies. “He understands the legal vulnerabilities, and he’s acutely aware that not all solutions go through traditional legislative channels.”
Obama orders cut in gas emissions
WASHINGTON — President Obama ordered the federal government on Thursday to cut its greenhouse-gas emissions by nearly half over the next decade, driving his climate change agenda forward despite percolating challenges from GOP-led states.
By curtailing pollution within the U.S. government, Obama sought to increase political pressure on other nations to deal seriously with climate change.
The U.S. and other nations will soon announce how much they’re willing to cut their national emissions as part of a global climate treaty to be finalized in December; scientists warn that if those pledges are too lax, the treaty could be too weak to stop the worst effects of global warming.
“We thought it was important for us to lead by example,” Obama said at the Energy Department headquarters, where he toured a sprawling installation of solar panels on the building’s roof.
Under an executive order signed by Obama, the government must cut its emissions of the heat-trapping gases blamed for global warming by 40 percent, compared to 2008 levels — a move the White House said could save taxpayers up to $18 billion in electricity costs.
Obama also directed agencies to ramp up use of renewable energy so that within a decade, roughly one-third of the government’s power consumption will come from sources like solar, wind and hydropower.