Obama puts personal stamp on EPA rules as Republicans pounce

President Obama and Capitol Hill Republicans broke sharply Wednesday over new EPA power plant pollution rules, underscoring election-season divides about environmental regulation that have spilled onto the campaign trail. 

The White House sought to put Obama’s stamp on the new mercury standards for coal-fired power plants while emphasizing that the administration is providing “flexibility” to industry.

In a video posted on the White House website Wednesday, Obama said his administration has had “enough” of efforts to delay clean air rules, noting that 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act mandated limits on mercury pollution from power plants.


“Today, my administration is saying, ‘enough,’” Obama said in the video. “We’re announcing new commonsense, cost-effective standards to dramatically reduce harmful air pollution. Because we’re acting, emissions of mercury and other pollutants, which cause a range of health problems including neurological damage in children, will decrease significantly.”

Obama’s public backing for the regulations stands in stark contrast to his September decision to scuttle EPA’s highly anticipated rules to toughen smog regulations. The move was a major blow to environmental groups, which had pushed for the standards for years.

“This is a good day,” Obama said Wednesday of the rules to cut emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gas and several other air toxics. “It’s a good day in the fight for clean air. It’s a good day in the fight for healthier communities and it’s a good day for the fight to protect our environment for the generations of Americans still to come.”

But Obama also sought to temper Republican and industry criticism of the regulations. He issued a memorandum Wednesday calling on EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson to “address any concerns with respect to electric reliability.”

The memo is a response to critics of the regulations, who have alleged that the the rules will cause so many power plants to shut down that the reliability of the country’s power grid could be compromised.

The Obama administration has pushed back in recent months on allegations that the rules will cause power outages. The Energy Department issued a report earlier this month that said the regulations will not threaten the reliability of the country’s electric grid. The EPA has come to the same conclusion.

Obama’s public support comes during a presidential campaign season in which EPA has been a frequent target of Republicans gunning for Obama’s job.

Many Republican candidates have accused EPA of pursuing an overzealous regulatory agenda on greenhouse gases and other issues. Even former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman, who has sought to position himself as a relative moderate in the GOP field, has lambasted EPA’s “regulatory reign of terror.”

The new standards drew criticism Wednesday from a number of senior Republicans who echoed coal industry claims about threats to electricity reliability and called the rules overly expensive.

“Under the rules, parts of the country face very real threats of rolling brownouts and blackouts. Most concerning is the tremendous impact this rule will have on low-income families who are struggling just to keep the lights on,” said House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) in a statement.

The House passed legislation earlier this year that mandates a delay of roughly a half-dozen years at least, and forces EPA to soften the rules, but the measure has not advanced in the Senate.

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeTop Republican: General told senators he opposed Afghanistan withdrawal Austin, Milley to testify on Afghanistan withdrawal The Pentagon budget is already out of control: Some in Congress want to make it worse MORE (R-Okla.) vowed Wednesday to challenge the rules under the Congressional Review Act, a mid-1990s statute that gives Congress a path to overturn federal rules.

“As Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, I am determined to apply the brakes to President Obama’s runaway regulatory agenda before it wrecks our economy,” Inhofe said in a statement.

Congressional Review Act resolutions cannot be filibustered, but the law is a blunt instrument that in this case would force Congress to nullify — not amend  rules that limit dangerous air toxics.

Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulGOP political operatives indicted over illegal campaign contribution from Russian national in 2016 White House debates vaccines for air travel Senate lawmakers let frustration show with Blinken MORE (R-Ky.) fell well short of the needed votes in November when he sought to use the law to kill a separate EPA power plant rule.

The long-delayed mercury rules drew strong support from a number of Capitol Hill Democrats on Wednesday.

“Power plants are not only the nation’s largest source of dangerous mercury emissions, but they also pollute the air we breathe with lead, arsenic, chromium, and cyanide,” said Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerFormer California senator prods Feinstein to consider retirement Trump decries 'defund the police' after Boxer attacked Former Sen. Barbara Boxer attacked in California MORE (D-Calif.), the chairwoman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, noting that the regulations will stem toxics linked to cancer and impaired neurological development in children.

Boxer also touted EPA estimates that the rules will create up to 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs.

EPA estimates that the rule will cost $9.6 billion annually but bring yearly health benefits that reach up to $90 billion.