Congress Launches Legislative Assault on Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan

Following lawsuits by states and the industry to block the new carbon rules, the House and Senate introduce resolutions that critics call ‘a futile ploy.'

Sen. Mitch McConnell has led congressional opposition to the Clean Power Plan
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is leading congressional opposition to the Clean Power Plan. Credit: Reuters

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Republican legislators in the House and Senate have introduced resolutions that aim to dismantle the Obama administration’s recently finalized carbon pollution rules.

Led by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, lawmakers in the Senate introduced a resolution on Tuesday to block the Clean Power Plan under the Congressional Review Act. Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) introduced a House version of the bill on Monday. Whitfield and McConnell also introduced resolutions to preempt a recently proposed rule to cut carbon emissions from new power plants.

The Clean Power Plan, which requires states to cut carbon emissions by 32 percent by 2030 from existing power plants, has faced attacks on multiple fronts since it was proposed in 2014. The final rule was announced in August.

The publication of the rule in the federal register last week made it official, opening it up to fresh lawsuits and legislative opposition. So far, 26 states as well as a number of business groups and coal companies have filed lawsuits. They contend that the Clean Power Plan is an example of federal overreach and an onerous burden on industries that will cost jobs and hurt the economy.

This latest attempt to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) would not get past a veto by President Obama. The resolutions are widely seen as symbolic, meant to show congressional opposition to the carbon regulations ahead of the international climate treaty negotiations in Paris later this year.

The Clean Power Plan is the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate policy agenda, which the White House believes is critical in garnering international support for the Paris talks. Fierce opposition could shake the international community’s confidence that the U.S. will follow through on its climate commitments.

The Congressional Review Act gives Congress the authority to review major regulations. Congress has introduced  CRA resolutions 43 times since its inception in 1996. Of them, only one passed both chambers, was not vetoed by the president and succeeded in overturning a rule.

The Sierra Club’s legislative director, Melinda Pierce, called the CRA resolutions a “futile political ploy.”

“We expected the coal industry to throw the kitchen sink at the Clean Power Plan, but it’s still appalling that they would threaten these essential protections using this extreme maneuver,” Pierce said in a statement.

Republican leaders, particularly those from the Appalachian region, have said the Obama administration is waging a war on coal and the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules are overly punitive on the coal industry. Coal, however, has been in a steady decline since 2000 as easily accessible coal supplies have diminished and cheap natural gas has flooded the market.

A recent poll also found that a majority of Americans, including Republicans, are supportive of the Clean Power Plan and want to see their states implement it. That shift is in line with other polling showing that concern about climate change is at a peak, with 56 percent of Republicans saying there is solid evidence that climate change is real.  

In Kentucky, McConnell and Whitfield’s home state, the attorney general is suing the EPA over the Clean Power Plan. But local grassroots groups, including Kentuckians For The Commonwealth and KY Student Environmental Coalition, have led rallies calling on state leaders to comply with the rules  and launched a program to help stakeholders create a plan to meet the state’s carbon targets.

“In essence this plan would create so many new jobs here in eastern Kentucky. Jobs we desperately need,” Stanley Sturgill, a retired coal miner and member of Kentuckians For The Commonwealth, said in an email. “Sadly, the very politicians…that are supposed to represent our own good health and well being are the ones that are our biggest opposition for this Clean Power Plan.”