Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell launched a new push to thwart President Obama's climate agenda on Wednesday, suggesting that Congress may be able to block regulations to curb power-plant emissions using an obscure provision of the Clean Air Act.
So far, McConnell's most high-profile effort to sink the regulatory regime that stands as the centerpiece of the president's climate agenda has been a campaign urging states not to comply with the rule.
But during a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing with Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Wednesday, McConnell suggested that section 102(c) of the Clean Air Act could allow Congress to check the administration's authority to enact the regulation. The provision applies to multi-state pacts that derive from the Clean Air Act.
"The law reads: 'No such agreement or compact shall be binding or obligatory upon any state unless and until it has been approved by Congress," McConnell said, adding: "Doesn't seem ambivalent to me."
McConnell continued: "I can assure you that as long as I'm majority leader of the Senate, this body is not going to be signing off on any backdoor energy tax."
McCarthy defended the regulation, saying: "I believe we are acting under the authority Congress gave us in the Clean Air Act."
The EPA administrator added that the agency has given states "tremendous flexibility" to comply with the rule and said that she is "more than happy to take comment and to work with any governor of any state at any time."
Obama is all but guaranteed to veto any legislative attempt at sabotaging the rule. The president's former climate adviser, John Podesta, has said that attacks on the rule "have zero percent chance of working."
But the regulation faces a wide array of challenges in Congress, in the courts, and in the states.
McConnell asked McCarthy how the administration plans to respond to the fact that all of Kentucky's leading gubernatorial candidates have said they will not comply with the regulations, which call on states to design a plan to cut power-plant emissions.
"I assume you will have to wrestle with that," the majority leader cautioned, adding that other nations "should proceed with caution into the December 2015 climate talks in Paris" in light of challenges to the rule.
Last month, McConnell argued in an op-ed that states should not comply with the rule, calling it "unfair" and "probably illegal."
The top-ranking Senate Republican has gotten a boost in his push to discredit the regulation from lauded constitutional scholar and former mentor to Obama Laurence Tribe.
Earlier this month, Tribe outlined arguments against the rule at a case heard before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, the first of what is expected to be an onslaught of legal challenges to the regulation.