Citing Concern For The Poor, GOP Senators Ask Obama To Ax EPA Climate Rule

From left: Republican Sens.David Vitter, Mitch McConnell, John Hoeven, and John Barrasso. Led by McConnell and Vitter, 41 Republican Senators signed a letter asking the President to abandon the EPA’s new climate rule. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE
From left: Republican Sens.David Vitter, Mitch McConnell, John Hoeven, and John Barrasso. Led by McConnell and Vitter, 41 Republican Senators signed a letter asking the President to abandon the EPA’s new climate rule. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/J. SCOTT APPLEWHITE

Forty-one Republican Senators asked the Obama Administration on Wednesday to abandon its new rules limiting carbon emissions from coal plants, saying their “primary concern” is how the rules will harm the poor and the elderly.

“Our primary concern is that the rule as proposed will result in significant electricity rate increases and additional energy costs for consumers,” the senators wrote, citing a thoroughly debunked study from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. “These costs will, as always, fall most heavily on the elderly, the poor and those on fixed incomes.”

Released before the EPA’s rule came out, the Chamber’s study predicted the rule would cost Americans 224,000 jobs per year, $289 billion in higher electricity costs, and result in a $3,400 increase in power costs per family, among other impacts. But the study falsely assumed that the rule would be more aggressive, leading to an overstatement of costs — a fact pointed out by both the Washington Post Fact-Checker and Politifact.

It’s also notable that a large majority of the 41 Senators who signed the letter, a full list of whom can be found here, have consistently voted against policies that seek to help low-income and elderly Americans.

Except for three who did not vote, each Senator voted against raising the minimum wage of federal workers to $10.10 by 2016. All except four voted against extending unemployment insurance benefits. And only one — Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV) — voted against a bill that would have taken away the guarantee of Medicare for seniors on the grounds that it would harm seniors. Sens. Rand Paul (R-KY), Mike Lee (R-UT), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) voted against it too, but only on the grounds that it didn’t go far enough.

There are also numerous reasons to believe that the rules will have an ultimately positive effect on job growth and the economy. As the EPA regulations will drive demand away from carbon-heavy electricity and into other emerging sectors like renewable electricity and energy efficiency, new jobs in those sectors — including manufacturing and construction — are expected to offset jobs lost in traditional coal power.

While concern for the poor may seem like a new strategy for Republicans, advocating for fossil fuel interests certainly is not: The 41 Senators who signed on the letter have altogether taken $23.8 million in career contributions from the fossil fuel industry, according to a CAP Action analysis of OpenSecrets data. That number amounts to 65 percent of total fossil fuel contributions given to currently-serving U.S. Senators.

In addition to concern for the poor and elderly, the Republican senators’ letter also cites a number of other questionable reasons why Obama should abandon the rules, which are widely seen as the most significant move ever made by the U.S. to address the direct causes of climate change.

For one, the letter questions whether the President was allowed to issue the rules, saying the administration “disregarded whether EPA even has the legal authority under the Clean Air Act to move forward with this proposal.” In fact, the EPA cites authority under two Supreme Court rulings, both of which affirmed that the EPA is required to regulate harmful emissions under section 111(d) of the Clean Air Act. In a 2009 endangerment finding, the EPA made it official that greenhouse gases are harmful to public health and welfare.

The letter also claims that “historical evidence” proves that Obama will not let individual states decide their own plans for limiting carbon emissions as the EPA rule says, but will “take over states’ preferred plans” and “dictate policies that restrict when American families can do the laundry or run the air conditioning.” The letter provided no indication of what that historical evidence was, or how the President would dictate individuals’ power usage.

A spokesperson for the U.S. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republicans, which issued the letter, did not return ThinkProgress’ request for comment on the letter.

In addition, the letter also said the regulations affirmed that raising electricity rates for American families and businesses were an “important goal” of the Obama Administration, adding that the “intended consequence” of the rules were also to “remov[e] coal as a power source from the generation portfolio.”

In fact, the goal of the regulations is to limit the amount of greenhouse gases the U.S. puts into the atmosphere, and send a message to other countries that the U.S. is committed to tackling the main causes of climate change. While the regulations will certainly make it harder for coal plants to operate as usual, it is a far cry to say coal will be “removed” from America’s generation portfolio. Under the new rules, the U.S. will still burn between 616 million and 636 million tons of coal for power in 2020 — whereas if the rule does not go through they will burn 844 million tons, which would still be a reduction of 25 to 27 percent.

The letter ended on what the senators called a “disturbing” note, which was that the greenhouse gas reductions achieved from the new rules will have “essentially zero” benefits for the climate.

While it is true that U.S. action alone would not impact worldwide CO2 levels enough to limit the detrimental impacts of climate change, no one ever said it could. Indeed, limiting climate change will take a global, cooperative effort. It is widely understood that this cannot be achieved unless the U.S. — the world’s wealthiest country and second-biggest carbon emitter — takes the initiative to cut its own emissions first.

The Senate Republicans’ full letter to the EPA can be found here.

Tiffany Germain, Senior Climate and Energy Researcher for the CAP Action War Room, contributed to this post.