Climate

Mitch McConnell Says His Top Priority Is To ‘Get The EPA Reined In’

CREDIT: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell .

On Thursday, incoming Senate Majority Leader and Kentucky Republican Mitch McConnell said that when it comes to serving his home state, his top priority is “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.”

In his first one-on-one interview since his landslide re-election for a sixth term, McConnell told the Lexington Herald-Leader that he is convinced that coal has a future and that he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop the EPA from regulating carbon dioxide emissions at coal-burning power plants. He said he won a number of coal-producing counties for the first time this election, but that it was a “disappointment” that the state House didn’t go to the GOP on Tuesday night as it would have helped him in his crusade to block the Obama administration’s efforts to promote low carbon, clean energy.

As it stands, McConnell said the only good tool with which to stifle the EPA “is through the spending process, and if (President Barack Obama) feels strongly enough about it, he can veto the bill.”

What this means is that McConnell will have a hard time killing the EPA’s carbon pollution regulations without shutting down the government, a thing he has already pledged not to do.

McConnell, who recently used the “I’m not a scientist” line to avoid taking a stance on climate change, decided to focus on the future of coal rather than that of the climate.

“I’m absolutely convinced from the people I talk to around the country, not just here but around the country, that coal has a future,” McConnell said. “The question is whether or not coal is going to have a future here. It’s got a future in Europe. It’s got a future in China, India, Australia. But not here?”

A recent investigation by the Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute found that much of McConnell’s vast personal fortune comes via his wife, Elaine Chao, whose father founded a shipping company, Foremost Maritime Corporation, that ships commodities, including coal, all over the world. Notably, the investigation found that the company ships cheap coal from Columbia — coal that can undercut the more costly production in Kentucky.

McConnell consistently places blame for the declining fortune of Appalachian coal squarely on the Democrats’ shoulders, but the real story is much more complicated and entails mechanization, natural gas, international trade, and much more powerful forces than EPA regulations.

Nonetheless, the Kentucky Opportunity Coalition, a Karl Rove-linked group, supported McConnell’s protection of the coal industry from the “Obama’s war on coal” this election with ad buys.

In both Thursday’s interview and a post-election speech, McConnell made the war on coal a high-profile talking point and his renewed war on the war on coal as Senate leader the rejoinder.

“I think it is reasonable to assume we will use the power of the purse to push back against this overactive bureaucracy,” McConnell said in a post-election speech November 5. “Of course, we have a huge example of that in this state with the war on coal.”

In his post-election speech, McConnell refrained from throwing any major punches, and took a more conciliatory tone, as did President Obama in his speech shortly thereafter. But as Evan Osnos noted in the New Yorker this week, if McConnell has a deep instinct to rise above his penchant for political calculation now “in a bid for comity and history, he hides it well.”

In so many ways, McConnell is the leader that this U.S. Senate deserves, Osnos continued. “He is a pure political being: he entered politics as a center-leaning, pro-environment, pro-choice Republican in a Democratic state; year by year, he has marched to the right in step with his Party,” he wrote.

For a glimpse into the incoming Senate Majority Leader’s plans for the next two years, McConnell has told his donors that he will work hard to thwart the Obama agenda, including pushing coal, moving forward with the Keystone XL pipeline, and stopping the EPA from doing anything to confront climate change.