Obama invites court fight with aggressive climate rules

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Proponents of the proposed regulations say the government’s authority to enact them is rooted in the decades-old Clean Air Act. 

But critics derided the move, and said Obama is simply circumventing Congress to achieve policy goals that he would otherwise have no chance of achieving.

“It is unfortunate that on a matter of such importance to all Americans that the administration has chosen to bypass our elected representatives in favor of unilateral actions and go-it-alone tactics,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said.

Business groups and congressional Republicans have railed against the Obama administration’s regulatory policies for years, saying an uptick in expensive new rules is stifling the economic recovery.

With few exceptions, Obama has stayed out of the fray. Tuesday’s speech, however, inserted the president into the middle of an issue that will help to shape his legacy in the years to come.

“The president really hasn’t put his signature on a regulatory initiative, as he is today,” said Wake Forest University law professor Sidney Shapiro.

Shapiro described Obama’s announcement as “his first Clinton-esque endorsement,” likening the climate change initiative to former President Clinton’s push to regulate the tobacco industry via the Food and Drug Administration.

Much like that effort, Obama’s climate change will almost certainly wind up in court, said Sam Batkins, regulatory policy director for the conservative-leaning American Action Forum, which tracks the impact of federal regulations.

“That’s the only way this is going to play out,” he said.

Obama called for the completion of pending regulations on greenhouse gas emissions for new power plants, a new round of fuel economy standards for heavy trucks and more federal spending to promote renewable energy.

But at the center of the plan is Obama’s push to enact the first-ever limits on greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants, which are responsible for roughly 40 percent of the nation’s carbon emissions.

“That’s a huge regulatory target,” said Batkins.

A proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency is expected next June, with the regulations to be finalized the following year.

Before the details are hammered out, it is nearly impossible to calculate costs of implementing the regulations. But the coal industry is likely to feel the most pain, because coal plants would likely be unable to comply and might be forced to shut down.

That fact was not lost on the representatives of coal country in Washington.

“President Obama today declared a war on coal, and thus declared a war on Kentucky jobs and our economy,” said Sen. Rand PaulRandal (Rand) Howard PaulOn The Money: House votes to avert shutdown, fund government through November | Judge blocks California law requiring Trump tax returns | Senate panel approves three spending bills Paul objection snags confirmation of former McConnell staffer Defense bill talks set to start amid wall fight MORE (R-Ky.), who suggested the proposal would lead to “the retroactive denial of permits, onerous regulations on coal-fired power plants, or unreasonable environmental requirements.”

Environmentalists bristled at the notion that Obama was governing by fiat, pointing to a landmark statute amended more than 40 years ago.

“This is a town of skewed political narratives,” said John Walke, clean air director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Truth is, the centerpiece of today’s announcement will be enforcing the Clean Air Act.”

Obama cited that authority in a formal presidential memorandum issued later Tuesday, directing the EPA to begin work on the new regulations.

Congressional Democrats, who have seen their efforts to counter the effects of global warming falter in Congress, praised Obama for heeding their call for action.

“I applaud the president for using the powers of his presidency,” said Sen. Barbara BoxerBarbara Levy BoxerHillicon Valley: Ocasio-Cortez clashes with former Dem senator over gig worker bill | Software engineer indicted over Capital One breach | Lawmakers push Amazon to remove unsafe products Ocasio-Cortez blasts former Dem senator for helping Lyft fight gig worker bill Only four Dem senators have endorsed 2020 candidates MORE (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.