Conservative group's $1M ad buy seeks votes to kill coal rule

A conservative advocacy group says it’s spending almost $1 million on ads to corral support for an upcoming Senate effort to overturn Environmental Protection Agency rules that require cuts in toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants.

American Commitment is running ads starting Friday in four states taking aim at “Obama’s war on coal” — the phrase critics use to allege the EPA rule and other White House policies create costly burdens that will kill jobs and raise power costs.

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The ads running in Tennessee, West Virginia, New Hampshire and Maine urge senators to support Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) resolution to overturn the rules that EPA finalized late last year. A vote on Inhofe’s plan is expected as soon as soon as next week.

One of the ads urges Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who opposes outright killing the EPA emissions rules, to change course and support Inhofe’s plan. “Is Senator Lamar Alexander joining Obama’s war on coal? It looks like it,” the ad states, alleging that a vote against Inhofe’s plan is “a vote against Tennessee.”

The West Virginia ad urges Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who has frequently broken ranks with the White House on coal policy, to rally colleagues in favor of Inhofe’s plan, stating: “Senator Joe Manchin may vote right, but will he lead others to stand up to Obama?”

The other ads are focused on Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), according to American Commitment.

Inhofe is trying to overturn the EPA rules — which require cuts in mercury and other emissions — using the Congressional Review Act.

The mid-1990s law allows lawmakers to nullify federal rules, and CRA resolutions are immune from filibuster, meaning just 51 votes are needed for passage.

“I think right now the hard count is still in the low-to-mid 40s, but there are a lot of undecided votes that are still out there,” said American Commitment President Phil Kerpen in a short interview, arguing that Manchin could help bring over enough coal-state lawmakers to put Inhofe’s plan over the top.

However, the CRA has been used successfully just once, and would force lawmakers to kill the emissions regulations, as opposed to modifying or delaying them. Inhofe faces a tough climb to reach 51 votes.

American Commitment is a recently formed group; Kerpen spent more than five years as a top policy and legislative strategist with the conservative group Americans for Prosperity.

Kerpen, in the interview, declined to say whether American Commitment receives funding from the coal industry. “We protect the privacy of all of our contributors,” he said.

The ad campaign is a mix of TV, radio and online spots, the group said. Kerpen said they will initially run through next Wednesday but that some of the funding for the buy will be held back, given the uncertainty of the timing of the vote.

Industry groups including the National Association of Manufacturers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Mining Association are working in support of Inhofe’s plan, Environment & Energy Daily reported Friday.

Critics of EPA say the air toxics standards and other regulations will together force closure of significant numbers of coal plants, harm the economy and jeopardize power reliability.

But backers of the standards call them vital public health protections and say allegations of economic harm are inaccurate.

EPA officials say the power plant rules have enough flexibility to address reliability concerns, and advocates of the emissions regulations point to reports from the Congressional Research Service and the Energy Department to back them up.

EPA estimates that the air toxics standards will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma per year.

The agency has also pushed back on claims that the rules will scuttle jobs, instead arguing that requiring plants to install pollution controls will help create employment. EPA estimates that rules will create tens of thousands of temporary construction jobs and 8,000 permanent utility jobs.