09.08.15

GOP Ready to Attack Obama’s Climate Agenda

Congress comes back from its month-long break ready to tackle a number of landmark energy initiatives, starting with an assault on President Obama's climate change plans.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is expected to make stopping the Environmental Protection Agency's Clean Power Plan a top agenda item in the fall, according to congressional aides.

McConnell has been an outspoken opponent of the climate change plan, which he says will place increased strain on the economy by driving up energy prices. The plan puts states on the hook for eliminating one-third of their greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. The Republican leader, who hails from a large coal-producing state, says the reduction in emissions is unachievable.

The EPA plan is the centerpiece of President Obama's climate change agenda, which is being contested by more than a dozen state attorneys general, including from McConnell's home state.

Two legislative measures are being looked at to block the climate plan: 

  • The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee passed a bill introduced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., called the Affordable Reliable Energy Now Act, which would delay the Clean Power Plan until it has survived all its court challenges. It also gives states the ability to opt out of the plan if they find the EPA rule will increase rates for consumers or harm the electric grid

The EPA in its final rule included a "reliability safety valve" in response to concerns about power outages resulting from coal plant retirements. With the safety valve, the EPA would grant exceptions to plants if closing them would harm the grid. But it doesn't allow a state to opt out.

McConnell is an original cosponsor of the bill. Capito also is working with Democratic counterpart in West Virginia, Sen. Joe Manchin, to build support in his party, said Capito spokeswoman Amy Graham. The bill was voted out of committee along party lines, but its approval means it has moved one step closer to a floor vote. The White House would more than likely veto the bill if passed. That means it would require a veto-proof majority to get it through, which could prove tough. 

  • Second, the Senate is considering a "resolution of disapproval" using the Congressional Review Act, which enables Congress to block a regulation if a majority of lawmakers sign onto the resolution.

"We are surveying all of our options, which includes introducing [Congressional Review Act] resolutions of disapproval for the president's carbon mandates, including the Clean Power Plan," said environment committee spokeswoman Kristina Baum, representing Republicans on the committee. "To date, we are awaiting publication of the final rule in the Federal Register and the formal transmittal by the EPA to Congress, which is required before the CRA process can begin."

The Justice Department told federal judges Aug. 31 that it will be months before the EPA rule is published in the Federal Register. That could mean action to counter the Clean Power Plan may occur at the end of the year when President Obama is in Paris to negotiate a global deal on climate change. The plan is seen as key to the U.S. meeting its obligations under any international deal.

A Congressional Review Act resolution can be passed with a simple majority. But that means it would be subject to a presidential veto, in which case it would need a super majority to make it veto-proof, say former staffers. That would require the GOP to persuade Democrats to support the measure. It's a long shot, given that many Democrats support the climate plan with the exception of a few, such as Manchin, from coal states.

Beyond the climate fight, the GOP and Democrats also will be working to pass energy legislation that has nothing to do with the EPA. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will urge McConnell to move the first major energy bills to the floor since 2007.

The bills include:

  • The Offshore Production and Energizing National Security Act, which was passed out of committee by a 12-10 party-line vote ahead of the August break. The bill would repeal the federal ban on crude oil exports that was put in place in the 1970s as a response to the Arab oil embargo. The U.S. is now a leading producer of oil and gas from the use of hydraulic fracturing, or fracking. Energy Committee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, wants U.S. crude oil producers to have access to a global market, while Democrats want more study to examine the effects of lifting the ban on fuel prices.

It's not certain when a floor vote will occur. "The chairman will pursue every possible vehicle with a chance for success for lifting the oil export ban," said committee spokesman Robert Dillon.

  • The energy committee also passed a comprehensive energy bill with much more bipartisan support. The bill, the Energy Policy Modernization Act, approved 18-4, would expedite the export of natural gas from the U.S., while increasing energy efficiency and improving grid security.

The bill avoids controversial issues, such as approving the Keystone XL Pipeline, which is considered a poison pill in getting legislation passed these days. Efforts to approve the pipeline legislatively, which has been under review by the State Department for more than six years, have been blocked by Obama.

In the House, Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, appears to be readying similar action on energy and EPA rules. Boehner is conducting a poll to understand America's energy priorities, consisting of three questions: ending the ban on oil exports; concerns that EPA rules will raise electric rates; and what the energy policy of the U.S. should be.

"Your priorities are my priorities," reads the caption above the survey on the speaker's website.


By:  John Siciliano
Source: Washington Examiner