Jim Inhofe and Rob Bishop are joining forces in an attempt to sink President Obama's climate agenda, using the unlikeliest of weapons: manatees.
The Republican critics of the president's climate push sent a letter to Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy on Monday warning that power-plant regulations set to be finalized this summer could threaten endangered species, including manatees that take refuge in the warm waters surrounding coal plants off the Florida coast.
Their logic goes like this: Obama's landmark climate rule, by curbing carbon-dioxide emissions from power plants, could force the coal plants to close, and that, in turn, could harm the endangered manatee population.
Inhofe and Bishop argue that the administration failed to properly consider this potential impact.
"A regulation that causes designated manatee refuges like Big Bend or Crystal River to shut down or alter their operations would significantly and adversely affect the endangered manatee," the letter states, referring to two coal power-plants in Florida.
Inhofe, the Hill's top climate skeptic and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and Bishop, the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, have vowed to fight tooth and nail against Obama's regulations curbing air pollution from the nation's fleet of power plants.
"It is clear that EPA entirely neglected to assess the ground-level effects of its regulation," Inhofe and Bishop write in their letter, adding: "If the agency determines that its proposed action may have any effect on a listed species, the agency is required to consult with the appropriate Service—even if the effects are beneficial."
The letter also comes with a long list of demands.
Inhofe and Bishop are asking the agency to turn over "all records, documents, analyses, memoranda, and communications" on the potential impact that the regulations will have on endangered species and provide evidence that EPA fulfilled its obligation to analyze those impacts and consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to determine that the rule could go forward under the terms of the Endangered Species Act.
The rhetorical argument has come up before.
During a March hearing, Bishop asked Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe if the agency failed to consult with EPA during development of the rules, noting that the survival of endangered manatees depends on discharge from Florida coal plants that creates a pool of warm water where manatees huddle for warmth during the winter.
The administration has pushed back. In a letter sent to Bishop in April, Ashe noted that "the service has not requested that EPA consult" on the power-plant regulations and does "not intend to do so, because we know from past experience that EPA has full knowledge" of their responsibilities under the Endangered Species Act.
EPA said the agency had received the letter and was reviewing it on Monday.