SHOWDOWN: McConnell to force vote on EPA anti-coal regulations

Michael Bastasch | Contributor

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said he will force a vote to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon dioxide emissions from new coal-fired power plants, striking back against anti-coal activists.

McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he and 40 fellow Republicans will attempt to block the EPA’s proposed rule using the Congressional Review Act (CRA). The CRA allows Congress to vote to block executive-branch regulations within 60 days of them being published in the Federal Register.

The EPA published its rule limiting carbon emissions from new power plants last week. The rule effectively bans the construction of coal-fired power plants unless they use costly, unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology. Coal state lawmakers argue that such a rule would cripple the coal industry and send thousands to the unemployment lines.

“Kentucky is facing a real crisis here,” McConnell said on the Senate floor on Thursday. “The Obama administration appears to be sending signals that its latest regulation is just the beginning in a new, expanded front in its War on Coal. Already, the administration’s regulations have played a significant role in causing coal jobs in my state to plummet.”

“So the Majority Leader [Harry Reid] and his Washington Democrat caucus now have a choice,” McConnell added. “Are they going to stand with the coal families under attack in places like Kentucky and West Virginia and Colorado, or are they going to continue to stand with the powerful left-wing special interests that want to see their jobs eliminated?”

McConnell announced he — along with fellow Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul — were going to file a resolution of disapproval against the EPA’s carbon emissions limits after the Washington Free Beacon issued two reports detailing how environmentalists coordinated with EPA officials to impose “impossible” standards on the coal industry.

The publication obtained emails which showed extensive collaboration between EPA officials and activists at the country’s most prominent environmental groups. For example, agency officials and environmentalists discussed where to hold hearings on the controversial coal plant emissions limits.

“San Fran and Seattle would be friendlier forums but CA has no coal plants and WA is phasing out its one plant,” former EPA Region 8 administrator James Martin wrote in an email to Vicki Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. Martin resigned from the EPA last year after The Daily Caller News Foundation released emails detailing other incidents where he coordinated with environmental groups.

“Choosing either may create opportunities for the industry to claim EPA is tilting the playing field,” Martin said to Patton. “Denver would not have that problem.”

Emails also suggest that the Sierra Club heavily influenced the EPA’s decision to require CCS technology for new coal plants to be allowed to operate. John Coequyt, head of the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign, emailed EPA officials Michael Goo and Alex Barron in 2012 on the subject.

“Attached is a list of plants that companies said were shelved because of uncertainty around GHG [greenhouse gas] regulations,” Coequyt wrote to Goo and Barron, who were both in the agency’s office of policy at the time. “If a standard is set that these plants could meet, there is a small chance that they [sic] company could decide to revive the proposal.”

“The point here is to eliminate coal jobs in America,” McConnell said on the Senate floor. “That’s why I wasn’t surprised by emails that recently came to light – emails which appear to show EPA officials colluding with extremist special interests in devising impossible-to-achieve regulations.

“The emails even referred to previously shuttered power plants as ‘defeated,’ making the intent behind coal-related actions seem clear,” he added.

Environmentalists have argued that CCS is necessary if the U.S. to lower its carbon footprint and make serious headway in the fight against global warming. Coal supporters argue that it’s all part of the Obama administration’s so-called “War on Coal”.

“Some call this regulation outrageous. Some say it’s extremism at its worst,” McConnell said. “Here’s what I call it: cruel.”

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