Coal State Senators Look To Block Obama's Climate Rules

"There's a war on coal in America," says Mitch McConnell, "and the leader is the president of the United States."
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senators are fighting the Environmental Protection Agency's&nbs
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and other senators are fighting the Environmental Protection Agency's new Clean Power Plan.

WASHINGTON -- Coal state senators from both parties are trying to derail the Obama administration's new emissions regulations for coal-fired power plants.

Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) introduced a measure on Tuesday that would prevent emissions limits for existing power plants from taking effect, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) introduced another measure to block the limits for new power plants.

The Obama administration's Environmental Protection Agency released the final rules for new and existing power plants, which it calls the "Clean Power Plan," in August. Under the plan, each state must meet an EPA-set emissions limit, but can develop its own plans to meet that limit. The rules were published in the Federal Register last Friday

The plan, Heitkamp said in a floor speech Tuesday, "threatens the supply of abundant, affordable, and reliable electricity" in her state and across the country.

"There's a war on coal in America," said McConnell, "and the leader is the president of the United States." 

To resist the new rules, the senators are using the Congressional Review Act, a little-used provision that allows Congress to overturn executive branch regulations within 60 days of their publication in the Federal Register. A CRA measure only needs a simple majority to pass -- and in the Republican-controlled Senate, the group will probably get that -- but McConnell acknowledged Tuesday that Obama would likely veto the senators' attempt, and they don't have the two-thirds majority needed to override a veto.

The majority leader, who has also been working to convince world leaders that the U.S. is not serious about committing to an international climate agreement, also downplayed the importance of cutting emissions in the U.S. Doing so, he said, would have "as much impact as dropping a pebble in the ocean, and yet we're paying a real price for it here at home."

McConnell has previously avoided answering the question of whether or not greenhouse gas emissions generated by burning fossil fuels cause climate change, stating that he is "not a scientist."

While the majority of Senate Republicans and a handful of Democrats like Heitkamp and Manchin would likely vote for the measures, some other vulnerable moderates are backing the administration's climate efforts. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) came out in support of the rules on Sunday, breaking from party leadership.