The writing should be on the wall for this one, particularly since the Democrats have essentially lost coal country entirely, as Ed pointed out this weekend. Energy – and the millions of jobs associated with it – was featured on the campaign trail and proved a winning issue for Republicans. And now, as reported by The Hill, the new GOP majority in the Senate is gearing up to finally do more than just talk about it.
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 McConnell (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.
There are plenty of tempting targets. Cross state emissions rules, rapid changes in mercury restrictions for coal fired plants which will be replaced in the next decade anyway, ground level ozone rules and clean water attacks on hydraulic fracturing (which doesn’t get into the ground water anyway) are just a few. The question is, how does the legislative branch fight against rules which are established pretty much exclusively by the executive branch?
There are actually a couple of options. The most direct route would be through appropriations, essentially stating that the President’s EPA can put the rules in place but that Congress will not authorize any money to enforce them. If that fails, a more complicated path would be to attempt to pass legislation which essentially bans or overrides implementation. (That would be a fun one to see settled in the courts.)
Of course, any of these measures would have to get past the President’s veto pen, but if the White House takes too strong of a stand on that they could be springing a terrible trap for Democrats. With both houses of Congress unified, the President would be essentially standing alone as the person blocking a path to cutting costs for consumers and the creation of more jobs. This sets up the GOP for 2016 with a new and potentially more salable message. Traditionally we’ve seen political combatants arguing that “the next president” will be the person selecting Supreme Court justices. It’s an important debate to be sure, but a more direct line to the voters will be to clearly explain that “the next president” will be staffing up the EPA and other regulatory agencies, and do you really want four more years of these policies? Voters also need to be reminded that these changes are largely cosmetic, feel good measures which are not only hugely expensive, but have no effect on the far dirtier energy policies of countries with vastly larger populations who will continue to do what they’ve always done.
That may turn out to be a key piece of the puzzle in determining how to combat a liberal Democrat nominee in 2016.