Greens fear loss of Senate firewall

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Green groups are fearful of Republicans winning the Senate majority in November, predicting it could lead to a “whittling away” of environmental regulations at the hands of GOP leaders.

While environmental groups are spending millions of dollars trying to save the Senate for Democrats, they acknowledge the possibility that they could be forced to play defense against an all-Republican Congress in 2015.

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“I think that the wholesale repeal of environmental legislation, repealing [Environmental Protection Agency] greenhouse gas authority, things like that, that’s unlikely to happen,” said Ben Schreiber, director of the climate program at Friends of the Earth.

“It is much more the painful whittling away [regulations] by attaching things to must-pass legislation,” he said, referring to policy riders that could be attached to legislation funding the government.

Republicans feel bullish about their chances of gaining the six seats they need to win Senate control. That outcome could elevate Sen. Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellPeter Thiel does not make the GOP pro-gay Reid: Trump is a 'hateful con man' McAuliffe: Clinton won't move TPP without changes MORE (R-Ky.), a staunch opponent of Obama’s environmental policies, to majority leader, provided he wins his own tough reelection race.

McConnell has begun to talk about the agenda that Republicans would pursue in the majority, placing a heavy emphasis on energy and environmental issues. He has promised to bring up a bill that would force the federal government to approve the Keystone XL pipeline, and vowed action on measures to overturn EPA pollution rules.

The GOP has done all it can to stop many of Obama’s environmental regulations, and the House has voted dozens of times to roll back his authority.

“Americans have seen a barrage of regulations and red tape from the president’s Environmental Protection Agency, strangling the coal industry, one of my home state’s most important sources of jobs and economic development,” McConnell said recently on the Senate floor.

“The regulations and lack of certainty in the coal industry that this administration has caused have contributed to a loss of 7,000 Kentucky jobs in that industry since the year President Obama took office,” he added.

Even if Republicans do triumph at the polls, they are not expected to come anywhere close to the 60-vote majority that would be needed to break filibusters by Democrats.

That means votes from centrists Democrats — many of whom hail from energy producing states — could be decisive in whether any of the GOP bills reach President Obama’s desk.

Daniel J. Weiss, who leads the campaign activities for the League of Conservation Voters (LCV), said he fears that Republicans would seek to block the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, which it has been able to do since a 2007 Supreme Court ruling.

“Mitch McConnell has made it clear that if he’s the majority leader, one of his top priorities is to block EPA from doing its job and forcing the Clean Air Act on cutting carbon — which is the biggest step the country has ever taken to cut pollution,” Weiss said.

“And he has made it clear, he’s suggested he’s willing to shut down the government to block EPA, and we want to make sure doesn't happen,” he said.

Sen. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseThe Hill's 12:30 Report Why Kaine is the right choice for Clinton Report: More, stronger cyber attacks to flood networks MORE (D-R.I.) predicted that a Republican-controlled Senate would be an “environmental nightmare.”

He said the GOP-led House has voted twice as many times to weaken environmental rules as it has to overturn ObamaCare.

“They’re a wholly-owned subsidiary right now of the polluting industries, and they’re going to do what they’re told,” he said. “The only limit on them is if the American public, I think, has really had it with that.”

Schreiber said the GOP House offers a good model of what a Republican Senate would do.

“We have an idea of what they’re going to do, because we’re seeing it in the House right now,” he said. “Drilling everywhere, anytime, any place. More subsidies for the fossil fuel industry. Attacks on renewable energy. Attacks on EPA.”

Schreiber said his worst fear would be if the Senate acted to remove the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. But that drastic of a move would be unlikely, he said.

Environmental advocates say they take comfort in the fact that President Obama will retain the veto pen no matter what happens in the election.

“It’s a challenge to pass any legislation, and certainly climate is in that same place,” said Alan Rowsome, a senior director of government affairs for the Wilderness Society. “But I think the president is going to continue to move forward and be a leader on that.”

The Wilderness Society focuses a large part of its advocacy on conservation, which Rowsome said gets more bipartisan support than climate change rules.

“These issues transcend the parties in many instances. There is a lot of support across the aisle for many conservation measures, and we’re going to focus on those opportunities to really find common ground,” he said.

Schreiber said his group would also work to find common ground with the GOP.

“All that we can do is educate the public about our issues, like we always have, and talk to members of Congress and educate them about our issues as well,” he said.