New GOP Senate begins assault on Obama's climate rules

The new Republican-controlled Senate kicked off its first of likely many hearings on President Obama's signature climate rules aimed at cutting carbon pollution on Wednesday.

Republicans on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee attempted to poke holes in the administration's carbon rules, calling the regulations "costly," "job killing," and "unnecessary."

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Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the committee, charged that the the rules would "do nothing to save us from global warming" and that they were "unconstitutional."

It's a move by Republicans to lay a foundation of criticism and doubt concerning the standards, but they still have yet to offer any details on a comprehensive plan to dismantle, repeal or replace them. 

Despite overwhelming opposition from Republicans to the regulations — which would mandate states cut carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants 30 percent by 2030 — it remains unclear how the new majority under Sen. Mitch McConnell's direction (R-Ky.) will try to block the rules.

Instead, each Republican on the committee sought to draw attention to parts of the administration's climate agenda they disagree with on Wednesday. 

Freshman Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) challenged the head of air and radiation at the Environmental Protection Agency, Janet McCabe, on the agency's authority to regulate carbon emissions from industrial sources. 

"Do you think this regulation dramatically expands your authority?" Sullivan asked.

"I do not. I don't. I believe we are following what the Clean Air Act requires," McCabe said, citing an endangerment finding by the Supreme Court. 

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) went another route, drawing into question the administration's recent deal with China to curb greenhouse gas emissions. 

"It's something many of us here oppose and are going to try to dismantle," Barrasso said.

Inhofe piled on as well, noting that roughly 31 states oppose the rule, and accused the EPA of believing false science on climate change, which he said has "become a religion."

Throughout the hearing, McCabe remained calm, and Democrats readily came to her defense, arguing for the need to act on global warming. 

"I want to compliment you for your calm presentation," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.). "This is not an administration gone rogue. This is an administration following the Clean Air Act."

Boxer shot back at claims that rules would kill states like West Virginia's economy by raising energy costs, arguing that California has steadily moved toward a cleaner economy and pays less for electricity. 

Others like Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said that coastal states like his, which rely on a fishing industry for its economy, are blaming warmer oceans for the disappearance of lobster and other species.

McCabe stressed in her testimony that the "risks are clear" and pushed back at Republican assumptions that the science on climate change has yet to reach a consensus.

"The high costs of climate change inaction are clear," McCabe said. "These steps will help build a more resilient nation, and lead the world in our global climate fight."

She added that the EPA would weigh all comments equally and that final rule will address a number of the questions raised by opponents. 

"[The] comments we receive may well lead to adjustments in the final rule… to the extent that adjustments are appropriate and within our authority we will be looking at those kinds of things," McCabe said.

Still, both parties remained at odds over the regulations, and it will not be the last hearing the Environment and Public Works Committee holds on the president's climate agenda. 

More are expected throughout the year in both chambers, but the GOP may not be able to launch a robust attack on the rules until they are finalized, which is when opponents are planning to challenge the standards in court.