Just days after the midterm elections, Republicans are picking the big targets at which to aim their new majorities, and the federal effort to cut carbon emissions is one of them.
Earlier this year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled regulations cutting greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from new and existing power plants, respectively. President Obama has laid out a plan to honor the United States’ international commitment to reduce its GHG emissions 17 percent below their 2005 levels by 2020, and those two regulations form the core of that effort.
They also appear to be near the top of the list of things the Republicans’ wish to dismantle, once they come into Congress in January with a newly-solidified grip on the House of Representatives and a new majority in the Senate.
On Thursday, Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) — who will likely become Senate Majority Leader when the new Congress enters in January — said he feels a “deep responsibility” to stop the power plant regulations, and that his top priority will be “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in.” Then on Sunday morning, newly-minted Senator Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) told Fox News Sunday’s Chris Wallace that she will be “extremely aggressive” in her attempts to roll back the EPA rules.
“The president’s policies are disenfranchising my part of the country,” Capito continued. “We’ve been picked as a loser, and I’m not going to stand for it. Rolling back the EPA regulations is the way to do it.”
According to a Sunday story in The Hill, the Republicans’ ambitions also extend well beyond EPA’s power plant regulations. “Republican lawmakers are planning an all-out assault on Obama’s environmental agenda, including rules on mercury and other air toxics from power plants, limits on ground-level ozone that causes smog, mountaintop mining restrictions and the EPA’s attempt to redefine its jurisdiction over streams and ponds,” the outlet reported. The Interior Department is also in the crosshairs, with rules due to come soon on hydraulic fracturing on public land and protecting streams from mining waste.”
“It’ll be a combined effort of using the appropriations process and the legislative process and the oversight process to put pressure on the administration prior to finalization,” a senior GOP aide told The Hill. “And then, once they’re final, if they’re still onerous and job-killing and harmful to the economy, then we’ll fight them there as well.”
The Republicans will have several options for going after the regulations. The first is the Congressional Review Act which, as the Center for American Progress noted, gives Congress the tools to shutdown major rulemakings in the interim time period between their announcement and finalization. This would require a majority vote of disapproval in both chambers of Congress, and in the Senate the Democrats would not be able to use the filibuster. Thanks to Tuesday’s midterm election, the Republicans now have the numbers to do this, and the rule for existing power plants won’t be finalized until mid-2015.
The second, which wouldn’t stop the rules but could slow them down, would be for Republicans to use their new command of various Senate committees to launch a new round of investigations into EPA’s regulations.
The final option, as the GOP aide mentioned, is to attach laws defunding EPA’s power plant rules to the next bill Congress puts together to fund the federal government. These appropriations bills have to be passed at regular intervals to keep the government operating, but they must also make it past President Obama’s veto power. So this would essentially set up a game of chicken between the President and the Republicans, with the EPA regulation as the stakes and a government shutdown as the consequence if neither side caves.
According to The Hill, if the fight comes to that, environmental activists are expressing confidence that Obama won’t be the one to blink. “The President has made clear that he will not be cowed by an appropriations strategy, by people trying to load up spending bills with provisions that the public doesn’t support and so we would expect that to be the case again,” said David Goldston, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s top lobbyist.