Continuing his crusade against the Obama administration’s regulatory plan to fight climate change, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on Wednesday told individual states to openly defy the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rules limiting greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
In an op-ed for the Lexington Herald Leader, McConnell said states should not form plans to meet the emissions reductions goals set out for them under the EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Under that plan, states would be required to create their own long-term strategies to reduce emissions, whether it be through cutting coal consumption, increasing renewable energy, or implementing a cap-and-trade program. If states don’t make a plan, the federal government will make one for them.
“Here’s my advice: Don’t be complicit in the administration’s attack on the middle class,” McConnell wrote. “Think twice before submitting a state plan.”
To support his advice, McConnell made familiar arguments, chief among them that the plan is “probably illegal.” If states don’t submit plans, he said, federal courts would have more time to weigh the lawsuits that are currently challenging whether the EPA has the legal authority to regulate carbon dioxide from power plants. Those lawsuits claim that greenhouse gas rules “impose impermissible double regulation” because the EPA already regulates general air pollution from power plants.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the EPA is allowed to regulate greenhouse gases. In Massachusetts v. EPA in 2007, the high court ruled that carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping emissions could be considered “air pollutants” under the Clean Air Act, and that the U.S. government had authority to curb them. Last summer, the Supreme Court affirmed 7 to 2 that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources, like power plants.
McConnell also re-hashed his and many conservatives’ claims that EPA climate regulations would result in coal job losses; that they wouldn’t do anything actually to stop climate change; and that they would “chas[e] industrial activity overseas” to China. The EPA has pushed back against those arguments numerous times, saying regulations would actually spur economic activity and job creation by investments in innovative clean energy technology. Right now, the EPA estimates coal industry job losses of 11,500 to 14,300 jobs from 2017 to 2020 because of the rule, but also predicts job gains in the renewable energy capacity construction of 15,800 to 19,100 over the same time period. The agency also predicts 76,200 to 112,000 jobs created solely by the energy efficiency sector in 2025.
As for McConnell’s argument that the rule will have a “negligible effect on global climate,” the EPA has often acknowledged that no one regulation in any one country can be significant enough to stop global manmade climate change. All countries need to act — but considering the United States is currently the world’s second-largest emitter and by far its largest historically, it’s reasonable to expect that other countries won’t take the huge step of reducing emissions until the U.S. makes a good faith effort. And the EPA’s effort arguably has already paid off somewhat in global negotiations — China, the world’s largest emitter, agreed to peak its carbon emissions and get 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030.
The irony of this is that Republicans, McConnell included, have long pointed to China’s refusal to cut its emissions as a reason the U.S. should not do it either. Now that China has agreed to cut emissions, Republicans, McConnell included, say the commitment is still not strong enough. At the same time, McConnell has refused to say whether he thinks manmade climate change is real, appointing the Senate’s most outspoken climate denier to lead his Environment Committee.
Still, the evolution of global climate negotiations doesn’t seem to matter to McConnell, whose fight against the EPA’s climate agenda is clearly somewhat personal. In January, when he took control of the Senate, he said he felt “deep responsibility” to stop the power plant regulations.
“It makes me very angry,” he said, “and I’m going to do everything I can to try to stop them.”