GOP Governors Line Up to Defy Obama's New Climate Rules

News & Politics

At least five Republican governors, including two presidential hopefuls — Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — have indicated they may defy new federal rules that are part of President Obama's climate change agenda. The rules — which are meant to reduce the nation's carbon emissions and speed the transition to renewable energy and a low-carbon economy — require existing power plants to reduce their carbon emissions 30 percent by 2030 (from 2005 levels). This goal is to be achieved by federally-enforceable state plans submitted to the EPA.

The gubernatorial response follows Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell's campaign, launched earlier this year, to get state governors to refuse to carry out the new regulations, which are slated to be finalized this summer.

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In a March letter to the nation's governors, Sen. McConnell issued a warning:

[S]ubmitting a plan exposes states to the real danger— allowing the EPA to wrest control of a state’s energy policy if they or any other federal agency becomes dissatisfied with a state’s progress in reaching federal emissions goals. As both the EPA and other environmental groups have noted, a state plan must be “federally enforceable.” The meaning of this language is clear: as the EPA sees it, a state-issued plan would give the agency broad new authority to control that state’s energy future — not to mention the ability to place the blame for future consequences squarely on the state itself.

He also quoted Harvard Law School professor Laurence Tribe, who called the EPA’s plan “constitutionally reckless”, saying it “usurp[s] the prerogatives of the States, Congress and the Federal Courts — all at once.” Tribe, a long venerated legal scholar and Constitutional lawyer who was Barack Obama's mentor, has lately been the target of criticism for his representation of Peabody Energy, a coal company, in its fight against the EPA's carbon emissions rules.

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President Obama may not be smiling after Senator McConnell's plan to derail his climate agenda unfolds. (image: jfxgillis/Flickr CC)

President Obama's climate change action plan is set to be the cornerstone of his climate and environmental legacy. It includes:

“EPA has an obligation under the Clean Air Act to develop a model federal plan, something that many states have asked EPA to do so it can provide an example for states developing their own plans,” said Thomas Reynolds, a spokesman for the agency. “EPA’s strong preference is to approve state plans, but we know that setting out a federal plan is an important step to ensure that our Clean Air Act requirements are fulfilled.”

On June 24, House Republicans advanced a bill that seeks to allow states to opt out of the EPA rule, requiring states to limit their carbon emission from existing power plants. The bill, introduced by Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-KY), was passed in a 247-180 vote. It would essentially allow governors to ignore the federal regulation, which is a centerpiece of Obama's climate agenda.

“The EPA’s latest attempt at imposing burdensome regulations represents an unprecedented meddling with Texas in order to push the Obama administration’s liberal climate change agenda,” said Greg Abbott, the governor of Texas.

RELATED: Here's What a GOP Presidential Debate on Climate Change Might Be Like — Based on Actual Quotes

"I am deeply concerned about the impacts of the Clean Power Plan on our state, especially our job creators, the poor, and the elderly who cannot afford more expensive, less reliable energy," said Indiana Governor Mike Pence in a letter to President Obama. "I reject the Clean Power Plan and inform you that absent demonstrable and significant improvement in the final rule, Indiana will not comply." He added that Indiana will "reserve the right to use any legal means available to block the rule from being implemented."

The bill, which also seeks to delay the implementation of the EPA rule, sets the stage for a protracted legal debate that could essentially scuttle the goals of the plan for years to come. William Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, expressed concern about this battle between Washington and the states. “If the federal government has to enforce this program if the state is unwilling or unable to comply, it will drag out the process, exacerbate the challenges, and make implementation that much more difficult,” he said.

RELATED: GOP Congressman Lamar Smith Declares War on NASA and EPA Climate Science Research

In addition, the House is debating a fiscal 2016 appropriations bill that would limit the EPA's ability to enforce the rule. The bill contains provisions that would not only limit the EPA's authority to enforce clean air and water regulations, but also block limitations on mining for natural gas on federal land and fracking.

As a result of successful lobbying by Sen. McConnell, the Interior and Environment spending bill also contains provisions that would prevent the EPA from penalizing states that fail to submit a compliance plan for the power plant emissions reduction rules.

“If enacted, the measure I secured today will guarantee that governors who heeded my warning will be protected, while also prohibiting funding for the EPA to force states to submit an implementation plan,” McConnell said last month. “I joined the Interior Subcommittee this year specifically to be in a position to oversee the EPA’s budget. The provision I secured today is very important to my constituents back home. If enacted, it will protect jobs, keep electricity prices low, and fight back against the bureaucratic overreach committed by this administration's EPA.”

Republican lawmakers are also planning to use the spending bill as a way to defund a host of Obama's most important initiatives across several areas beyond climate and environmental protection, including Cuba, immigration, labor and net neutrality.

RELATED: The Good, the Bad and the Dirty: Climate, Congress and Carbon

“The president’s Clean Power Plan undermines the role of states in the federal Clean Air Act in an effort to realize a radical, liberal agenda that will lead to increased energy costs," said Michael Reed, a spokesman for Mr. Jindal, in an email. "While we believe the proposed rule should be immediately withdrawn, we are considering all options to mitigate the damage if it becomes final, including not submitting a plan.”

In a letter to Mr. Obama, Governor Walker wrote that he feared the “staggering costs it would inflict on Wisconsin’s homes and businesses,” adding that unless the plan undergoes major changes, “it is difficult to envision how Wisconsin can responsibly construct a state plan.”

RELATED: U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Obama's EPA Limits on Air Pollution

Mary Fallin, the governor of Oklahoma, has officially committed to opting out of the rules. Calling the EPA rule "a clear overeach of federal authority," she wrote in an executive order in April: "I hereby prohibit the Department's of Environmental Quality from beginning efforts to develop a SIP [State Implementation Plan] related to carbon dioxide emissions from power generation sources."

The developing battle between the federal and state governments over climate change — from whether or not it exists to how to deal with it if it does — is proving to be an ideological litmus test for the Republican party going into the presidential election. For GOP candidates, this test will be tricky, as a majority of Americans — including 48 percent of Republican voters — say they are more likely to support political candidates who promise to take action against climate change, according to a recent New York Times/Stanford University poll.

"We know that it would be unconscionable to condemn our children to a planet that is beyond their capacity to repair," said President Obama in his Climate Action Plan. "Fortunately, we have the means — the technological edge and the scientific imagination — to begin the work of fixing it right now." Unfortunately, it looks like much of that work will just have to wait.


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