Both chambers of Congress this week are set to join the avalanche of attacks on the Obama administration’s rules limiting emissions from the power sector.
The measures to kill the rules under a fast-track process of the Congress Review Act don’t have much of a future—even if they reach President Obama’s desk, they’ll face a sure veto. A flurry of lawsuits from states and industry groups is a more likely avenue for a serious challenge to the rules, even if the legal process will take years to unwind.
But opponents are eager just to have the debate, since it sows seeds of doubt about the climate plan as the Obama administration works to maintain a strong posture with the international community ahead of United Nations climate talks in Paris at the end of the year.
The power-plant rules—which will require a 30 percent reduction in carbon emissions by 2030—are the largest piece of the administration’s climate-change agenda and form the centerpiece for the emissions-reduction plan that the U.S. is presenting to the rest of the world amid United Nations climate negotiations.
But they’re also the No. 1 target for Congressional Republicans and industry groups, who say the entire climate agenda is a federal overreach that’s going to raise electricity prices and tank the economy.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell announced plans this week to introduce a CRA resolution with Democrat Joe Manchin to block the administration’s rules limiting carbon emissions from new power plants. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito and Heidi Heitkamp will introduce an accompanying resolution to stop the rules for existing power plants, and leaders say they’ll move quickly to get them to the floor.
Rep. Ed Whitfield will offer a CRA resolution in the House as well.
Whitfield said the introduction of the resolutions would “mark an important milestone in our fight to keep the lights on and protect jobs and affordable energy.” In a statement, McConnell said the CRA would “allow Congress the ability to fight these anticoal regulations,” but added that it’s just “another tool in that battle.”
The members say the measure is a way for Congress to intervene in a rule that will raise energy costs and cost jobs. But it’s a long shot—only one CRA resolution has ever succeeded. President Obama is sure to veto a resolution if it reaches his desk, and Democrats are likely to be able to sustain it.
Senate supporters of the climate rule have also said they’re gearing up for a massive fight on the floor over the climate rules.
But a vote does give opponents an on-the-record statement of disapproval and a signal that at least one branch of the government isn’t on board with the climate agenda.
And that’s exactly what McConnell and other opponents of the Clean Power Plan want to tell the rest of the world. McConnell has been working for months to try to communicate to states and other countries that the Clean Power Plan isn’t on solid ground in a bid to undermine international climate talks.
Last spring, McConnell issued a warning to foreign governments, saying, “Considering that two-thirds of the U.S. federal government hasn’t even signed off on the Clean Power Plan and 13 states have already pledged to fight it, our international partners should proceed with caution before entering into a binding, unattainable deal.” His office has also been reaching out to embassies to inform them about steps that opponents could take to kill the rule.
On Friday, 24 states and several industry groups—including the National Mining Association and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce—filed multiple lawsuits against the EPA over the rule. The Senate and House are also moving their own bills that would force EPA to scrap the plans. The Senate has also been stepping up its work to try to get oversight over any climate deal.
The White House says that the rules are on solid ground. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy said in a statement that the rule has “strong scientific and legal foundations” and that the agency was “confident we will again prevail against these challenges.”
And as for any concerns about the Paris talks?
“It is notable that the principal argument against taking domestic action against climate change is that if we act and the rest of the world doesn’t act then we somehow put our economy at a disadvantage,” said a senior administration official.
“Well, now, we’ve acted, and the opposite is true,” the administration official added, saying that the actions had helped solidify deals with countries such as China and Brazil, and would carry through the U.N. conference.
The administration pledged to the U.N. that it would cut emissions 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, through measures such as the Clean Power Plan, fuel economy standards, and clean-energy incentives. The U.N. talks are dependent on countries each submitting—and following through—on their own emissions plans.
Republicans have long argued that unless large emitters such as China are also cutting back, U.S. action on climate change will be ineffective and put the country at an economic disadvantage. But increasingly, they’ve argued the inverse—that other countries shouldn’t sign onto a pledge that the U.S. can’t follow through on.
Environmental groups, however, say those arguments are defeatist. And more to the point, groups say that the rule has a solid backbone in the Clean Air Act and won’t fall victim to a legal challenge.
“They can throw everything and the kitchen sink at this standard, but the Clean Power Plan’s push to cut dangerous carbon pollution from power plants for the first time ever is based on a law passed by Congress and upheld by the Supreme Court, and it has the overwhelming support of the American people,” said Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.