Senate Republicans are gearing up for a war against the Obama administration’s environmental rules, identifying them as a top target when they take control in January.
The GOP sees the midterm elections as a mandate to roll back rules from the Environmental Protection Agency and other agencies, with Republicans citing regulatory costs they say cripple the economy and skepticism about the cause of climate change.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellSanders: 'If you don't have the guts to face your constituents,' you shouldn't be in Congress McConnell: Trump's speech should be 'tweet free' Protesters crash McConnell's speech MORE (R-Ky.) identified his top priority come January as “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”
McConnell made his defense of coal, a major piece of Kentucky’s economy, a highlight of his reelection bid, which he won easily over Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes.
He said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, as it proposed to do in January for newly built generators and in June for existing ones.
But those are far from the only rules the GOP wants to target.
Republican lawmakers are planning an all-out assault on Obama’s environmental agenda, including rules on mercury and other air toxics from power plants, limits on ground-level ozone that causes smog, mountaintop mining restrictions and the EPA’s attempt to redefine its jurisdiction over streams and ponds.
The Interior Department is also in the crosshairs, with rules due to come soon on hydraulic fracturing on public land and protecting streams from mining waste.
Many of the rules are part of the “war on coal” that Republicans have accused Obama of waging. They charge that Obama has tried to revive cap-and-trade rules for carbon emissions despite the 2009 failure of legislation when Democrats controlled both chambers of Congress.
A senior GOP aide didn’t take any of Obama’s major environmental rules off the table, saying they all could get scrutiny under Republican control of the Senate, depending on how the regulations develop.
The staffer said Republicans have a series of tools available to them to fight Obama with different degrees of severity.
“It’ll be a combined effort of using the appropriations process and the legislative process and the oversight process to put pressure on the administration prior to finalization,” the aide said.
“And then, once they’re final, if they’re still onerous and job-killing and harmful to the economy, then we’ll fight them there as well.”
McConnell has endorsed appropriations riders in recent days as the best tool to stop regulations. But if legislation with those policy provisions fails to pass, it could lead to a government shutdown, violating McConnell’s stated promises to avoid shutdowns as majority leader.
Helping McConnell in his fight against the EPA will be Sen. Jim InhofeJames InhofeA guide to the committees: Senate GOP considers ways to ‘modernize’ endangered species law GOP bill would eliminate Consumer Financial Protection Bureau MORE (R-Okla.), who said on election night that he would become chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee after having led it from 2003 to 2007.
Inhofe is an established enemy of Obama’s EPA and skeptic of the scientific consensus on human-caused climate change, having written a book two years ago titled “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.”
He has compared the EPA to Nazi Germany’s Gestapo and pushed to roll back water and air pollution rules, ozone limits and funding for contamination cleanup.
Asked about his plans for the environment panel, Inhofe spokeswoman Donelle Harder said he has focused on his campaign and a defense bill in recent months.
“There is nothing yet to be released on his agenda for the EPW Committee in the new Congress,” she said.
Leading the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will be Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa MurkowskiGOP senator won't vote to defund Planned Parenthood A guide to the committees: Senate Public lands dispute costs Utah a major trade show MORE (R-Alaska), who wants to increase domestic energy production and exports. She also doubts humans’ responsibility for climate change.
The House has already passed a slate of bills to roll back many EPA regulations, though Senate Republicans haven’t promised to follow the lower chamber’s lead.
Business advocates are hoping for a bicameral push against the EPA in the next Congress.
“I think it’s going to be a full-on attack, especially because a lot of the rules that have either been introduced or recently promulgated are going to come with extreme costs and very minimal environmental benefits,” said Nick Loris, a fellow with the Heritage Foundation.
Climate change regulations are probably going to be the first priority, Loris said.
He thinks Republicans could attack the core of Obama’s greenhouse gas rules. They are likely to try to roll back the 2009 “endangerment finding,” the ruling from the EPA that greenhouse gases pose a threat to public health and welfare and can be regulated.
Also at risk could be the “social cost of carbon,” a metric used in the Obama administration’s cost-benefit analysis method for cutting carbon dioxide pollution.
“It’s important for conservatives and those who are against the EPA’s regulation of greenhouse gases to go right to the core of this issue,” Loris said. “These are the underpinnings for a lot of what the agency is doing.”
The coal lobby is hoping that McConnell will live up to his campaign promises to defend the embattled industry.
“Tough oversight and investigation is needed to understand what’s at play in this administration and we look forward to the newly elected Senate letting a little sunshine in,” said Laura Sheehan, spokeswoman for the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity.
But environmentalists don’t think Republicans will be able to muster the support necessary to block major Obama rules.
“Even though more anti-environmental candidates were elected in Congress and will be occupying the Senate, we’re confident that the president will be able to make sure his legacy is achieved and that we’ll be able to make more progress on climate change in the years ahead,” Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said recently at a gathering of environmental campaign finance leaders.
David Goldston, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s top lobbyist, had a similar conclusion.
“The president has made clear that he will not be cowed by an appropriations strategy, by people trying to load up spending bills with provisions that the public doesn’t support and so we would expect that to be the case again,” he said.
Elizabeth Thompson, director of Environmental Defense Fund campaign affiliate EDF Action, said Republicans misinterpreted the message from voters.
“It would be a mistake for anyone to conclude that this election signals that the public is inviting any kind of congressional rollback of America’s bedrock environmental protections,” she said.