The Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolutions to overturn the Clean Power Plan that are making their way through Congress are another futile ploy by the coal industry to derail vital new public health protections against carbon pollution and curtail the rise of America’s clean energy economy.
The only way for the newly minted Senate Energy and Environment Working Group -- made up of Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly Ann AyottePoll: Potential Sununu-Hassan matchup in N.H. a dead heat Democrats facing tough reelections back bipartisan infrastructure deal Sununu seen as top recruit in GOP bid to reclaim Senate MORE (R-N.H.), Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - Democrats return to disappointment on immigration Authorities link ex-Tennessee governor to killing of Jimmy Hoffa associate The Republicans' deep dive into nativism MORE (R-Tenn.), Mark KirkMark Steven KirkDuckworth announces reelection bid Brave new world: Why we need a Senate Human Rights Commission Senate majority battle snags Biden Cabinet hopefuls MORE (R-Ill.), and Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham The Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden meets with lawmakers amid domestic agenda panic The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Alibaba - House Democrats plagued by Biden agenda troubles MORE (R-S.C.) -- to be taken seriously will be for it to unanimously reject these attacks on the Clean Power Plan and publicly encourage their colleagues to do the same. The group will need to try hard to convince the public that it’s sincere about protecting the environment, especially after every one of its members recently voted to kill important clean water protections the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed earlier in the year.
The EPA estimates that the Clean Power Plan would help prevent up to 3,600 premature deaths, create 90,000 fewer asthma attacks in children, and avert 300,000 missed school and work days. Economists also estimate that it will create hundreds of thousands of jobs in the energy-efficiency, solar, and wind industries, and dramatically ramp up the clean energy economy.
These benefits fit squarely within the working group’s announced mission earlier this month, which was to find “ways [to] protect [the] environment and climate while also bolstering clean energy innovation that helps drive job creation.” In light of this, there is no wiggle room for these senators on their CRA votes; they either vote “no” and stand by the mission of their group or vote “yes” and abandon it while the ink is still wet.
This cut and dry decision will be even easier to make if they consider that the CRA resolutions will run into the brick wall of a presidential veto and have no bearing on implementation of the Clean Power Plan. They are nothing more than a desperate attempt by the coal industry to undermine President Obama before he travels to Paris for the UN climate negotiations.
According to the Government Accountability Office, in 43 attempts lawmakers have succeeding in using CRA resolutions to block an administrative regulation only once. That makes sense, because if such a resolution passes it blocks the agency from ever creating a substantially similar rules in the future. That's why many members on both sides of the aisle consider CRA resolutions to be an extreme legislative device. If they were used to stop the Clean Power Plan, the EPA’s ability to protect public health from carbon pollution would be seriously undermined.
It is possible, as Graham wrote in the working group’s introductory release, “to produce a safe, clean environment, and create new well-paying jobs for Americans of all generations,” but not without lawmakers who vote their values and backup their verbal commitments to the environment with strong action.
The climate crisis is the greatest environmental threat our country has ever faced, and the Clean Power Plan is one of America’s strongest policies to combat it. With these CRA votes, this new working group has an opportunity to prove its mettle and side with the majority of Americans by supporting the Clean Power Plan.
Brune is executive director of the Sierra Club.