McConnell To States: Don’t Implement EPA Regulations

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has a message for states opposed to the EPA’s plan to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from power plants: don’t implement the rule.

“The regulation is unfair. It’s probably illegal. And state officials can do something about it; in fact, many are already fighting back,” McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, wrote in an op-ed in the Lexington Herald.

McConnell is calling for states to hold off on implementing the EPA’s carbon dioxide rule until the courts have weighed in — a process which could take years. But a delay could be in hopes that a Republican is elected president in 2016 after President Barack Obama is term-limited out of office.

“Don’t be complicit in the administration’s attack on the middle class,” McConnell wrote. “Think twice before submitting a state plan — which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits — when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won’t be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism.”

“Refusing to go along at this time with such an extreme proposed regulation would give the courts time to figure out if it is even legal, and it would give Congress more time to fight back. We’re devising strategies now to do just that,” he added.

When McConnell was chosen to lead the Senate, he promised to fight back against the EPA’s rule designed to cut power plant emissions 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. The rule will result in more coal-fired power plants being shut down, raising power prices and forcing the coal industry to lay off more workers.

Republicans have argued the EPA plan violates the Clean Air Act, mainly because it impinges on a state’s ability to set its own environmental agenda. Under the EPA’s plan, states must find ways to reduce power plant emissions — if they fail to put forward a plan, the federal government will take over their clean air policy.

Calls for states to, in effect, nullify the EPA’s rule, come after about a dozen states sued the Obama administration over the legality of regulating carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

On top of that, dozens of state environmental and public utility regulatory bodies have expressed concerns over how the complex plan would actually work, and if it would harm the reliability of the electrical grid. Regulators worry that coal, gas and nuclear plants will be forced to retire and be replaced with intermittent wind and solar power.

“The anticipated retirement of up to half of the existing coal capacity in the ERCOT region will pose challenges to reliable operation of the grid in replacing the dispatchable generation capacity and reliability services provided by these resources,” the Electric Reliability Council of Texas wrote in its analysis of the EPA’s rule.

“If the proposed Clean Power Plan remains as is, the bulk electric system will be at serious risk of violating these [voltage limits],” the Southwest Power Pool wrote to the EPA. SPP’s grid “will experience numerous thermal overloads and low voltage occurrences.”

The EPA says its rule will not impact grid reliability because it provides enough flexibility for states to set plans that reduce carbon dioxide and keep power flowing.

“A lot of attention has been zeroing on the four building blocks, and why they pose challenges and why EPA didn’t get that quite right,” said Janet McCabe, who heads up EPA’s clean air office. “I think it’s important not to forget that there’s a range of other activities that states and utilities can engage in that will lead to reduced carbon.”

The agency has even asked Congress for $4 billion to reward states that reduce carbon dioxide emissions beyond what federal regulators ask of them. But with such rewards can come punishment.

The Obama administration could, in theory, strip states of some highway funding for refusing to implement EPA regulations.

“[T]here is a way forward for the agency to proceed with a strategy to coerce States into Clean Power Plan compliance by withholding highway funds,” wrote Will Yeatman, a policy analyst with the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

Even with that in mind, McConnell is asking states to hold off on implementing rules to fight global warming.

“In short, this regulation threatens to hurt a lot of people without doing much for the global environment. In fact, it could even make things worse by chasing industrial activity overseas to high-polluting countries like China,” McConnell wrote.

“So for now, hold back on the costly process of complying. A better outcome may yet be possible,” McConnell added.

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