GOP's Mitch McConnell Plots to 'Save' Coal by Destroying Planet
March 24, 2015
Joe Romm / ClimateProgress & Coral Davenport / The New York Times
Sen. Mitch McConnell is taking extraordinary measures to block modest efforts aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change. As the New York Times reports, he has begun an "aggressive campaign to block" EPA's carbon pollution standards "in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond Mr. McConnell's official reach and authority." His efforts can't save the coal industry, but they will make it harder to save the US from Dust-Bowlification and the loss of its coastal cities.
McConnell Declares War On A Livable Climate,
Aims To Stop National And Global Action
Joe Romm / ClimateProgress
(March 20, 2015) -- Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is taking extraordinary measures to block the most modest efforts aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change. He has begun an "aggressive campaign to block" EPA's carbon pollution standards "in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond Mr. McConnell's official reach and authority," as the New York Times reports.
Tragically, while his efforts can't save the coal industry, which is "dead man walking," as Deutsche Bank has explained, McConnell can certainly make it much harder for Americans to save ourselves from Dust-Bowlification and the loss of our coastal cities.
On Thursday, the coal-state senator Senator sent out an an unprecedented letter to every governor in the country urging them not to comply with federal law. But this campaign is aimed at a much bigger target than the relatively limited EPA rules -- which are so weak that we'll come close to meeting them simply because of low natural gas prices and state and federal efforts to expand energy efficiency and renewable energy.
McConnell is trying to "undercut Mr. Obama's position internationally as he tries to negotiate a global climate change treaty to be signed in Paris in December," the New York Times reports. "The idea is to create uncertainty in the minds of other world leaders as to whether the United States can follow through on its pledges to cut emissions."
Remember that Christiana Figueres, the top UN climate official, has said the Paris talks will "not get us onto the 2°C pathway," which scientists have said is the limit if we are to avoid dangerous impacts. Instead, the best outcome for Paris is to get as far as possible from the unimaginably catastrophic 6°C (11°F) path we're currently on -- and to give the next generation a plausible chance at staying well below the 4°C (7°F) path that would render large parts of the Earth unsuitable for farming and virtually uninhabitable, probably for centuries.
The likely future of North America if Sen. Mitch McConnell succeeds in blocking domestic (and international) climate action -- via a 2015 NASA study. If we stay near business-as-usual CO2 emissions, we will turn the normal climate of much of the country and world into "severe drought."
McConnell wants governors to ignore the law's requirement for them to put forward a state implementation plan to meet the EPA's proposed Clean Power Plan standards. He claims that doing so "will provide time for the courts to rule on whether the EPA's proposed rule is legal." But EPA is legally obligated to issue rules regulating CO2 from existing power plants, since the Roberts Supreme Court 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that carbon dioxide qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. And just last year, the Roberts Court affirmed 7 to 2 the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources, such as power plants.
If states don't put forward a state implementation plan to meet the EPA's extremely flexible standards, then the federal government is required by law to do so. The net result is the same -- the state must meet the law -- but McConnell's strategy means the federal government tells the states exactly how to meet the targets, rather than the other way around.
Of course, McConnell's strategy can delay things -- especially with the help of the staggering $889 million the multi-billionaire pollutocrat Koch brothers are planning to spend in the 2016 election cycle at the state and national level. And after 25 years of dawdling on climate action, we have no more time to delay.
So an epic struggle for the fate of America and the world has begun. Unfortunately, the media seems to miss this crucial point as it embraces the pro-pollution framing of the anti-science Senator. The New York Times headline for its story is, "McConnell Urges States to Help Thwart Obama's 'War on Coal'." Seriously.
Nothing McConnell is doing has any plausible chance of reversing the rapidly vanishing Kentucky coal workforce or saving the coal industry. A recent report reveals that "Developers Are Cancelling More Coal Plants Than They Build." The biggest coal consumer in the world by far, China, actually cut its coal use 2.9 percent last year on its way to meetings its target of a peak in coal by 2020 (and likely much sooner).
The only hope for the coal industry in a rational world that wants to avoid catastrophic warming is carbon capture and storage -- but the industry has basically let that option wither on the vine for lack of support.
Back to the Times story. This is the same paper that reported in 2014 on how the faster-than-expected disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet we are now seeing could "potentially caus[e] enough sea-level rise that many of the world's coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned."
And the Times reported in February on the NASA drought study discussed above, noting "As bad as recent droughts in California, the Southwest and the Midwest have been, scientists say far worse 'megadroughts' are coming -- and they're bound to last for decades."
So their headline is wrong. Obama isn't waging a war on coal, he just doesn't want to flood coastal cities or turn much of the interior of the nation into a vast wasteland that "makes the Dust Bowl look like a picnic," in the words of one scientist!
It is McConnell who is waging a war -- a war on humanity, a war on America's future, a war on the world's children and indeed the next 50 generations, since man-made climate changes are essentially irreversible on a time scale of centuries.
McConnell Urges States to
Help Thwart Obama's 'War on Coal'
Coral Davenport / The New York Times
WASHINGTON (March 19, 2015) -- Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky has begun an aggressive campaign to block President Obama's climate change agenda in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond Mr. McConnell's official reach and authority.
The campaign of Mr. McConnell, the Senate majority leader, is aimed at stopping a set of Environmental Protection Agency regulations requiring states to reduce carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, the nation's largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.
Once enacted, the rules could shutter hundreds of coal-fired plants in what Mr. Obama has promoted as a transformation of the nation's energy economy away from fossil fuels and toward sources like wind and solar power. Mr. McConnell, whose home state is one of the nation's largest coal producers, has vowed to fight the rules.
Since Mr. McConnell is limited in how he can use his role in the Senate to block regulations, he has taken the unusual step of reaching out to governors with a legal blueprint for them to follow to stop the rules in their states. Mr. McConnell's Senate staff, led by his longtime senior energy adviser, Neil Chatterjee, is coordinating with lawyers and lobbying firms to try to ensure that the state plans are tangled up in legal delays.
On Thursday, Mr. McConnell sent a detailed letter to every governor in the United States laying out a carefully researched legal argument as to why states should not comply with Mr. Obama's regulations. In the letter, Mr. McConnell wrote that the president was "allowing the EPA to wrest control of a state's energy policy."
To make his case, Mr. McConnell is also relying on a network of powerful allies with national influence and roots in Kentucky or the coal industry. Within that network is Laurence H. Tribe, a highly regarded scholar of constitutional law at Harvard Law School and a former mentor of Mr. Obama's. Mr. Tribe caught Mr. McConnell's attention last winter when he was retained to write a legal brief for Peabody Energy, the nation's largest coal producer, in a lawsuit against the climate rules.
In the brief, Mr. Tribe argued that Mr. Obama's use of the existing Clean Air Act to put forth the climate change regulations was unconstitutional. He then echoed that position in an op-ed article in The Wall Street Journal. He argued that in requiring states to cut carbon emissions, and thus to change their energy supply from fossil fuels to renewable sources, the agency is asserting executive power far beyond its lawful authority.
Peabody Energy has been the fourth-largest contributor to Mr. McConnell's election campaigns over the course of his political career, and his office maintains close and frequent communication with the company.
In addition to stopping state-level enactment of the climate rules, Mr. McConnell's strategy is intended to undercut Mr. Obama's position internationally as he tries to negotiate a global climate change treaty to be signed in Paris in December. The idea is to create uncertainty in the minds of other world leaders as to whether the United States can follow through on its pledges to cut emissions.
"We've seen modern lobbying strategies that become a very large campaign, coordinated with states and localities, but we've never seen a Senate majority leader or House speaker in front of it," said James Thurber, director of the Center for Congressional and Presidential Studies at American University in Washington. "It's quite clever. It's sophisticated and unusual."
As he campaigned across Kentucky's economically ravaged coal towns last fall, Mr. McConnell frequently declared that he would do everything in his power to battle what he calls Mr. Obama's "war on coal."
Although Republicans now control both chambers of Congress and could summon a simple majority of votes for legislation to block or delay the climate regulations, they do not have the majorities necessary to override a Democratic filibuster or a presidential veto. Blocking Mr. Obama's climate policies is also difficult for lawmakers because the regulations largely sidestepped Congress.
Using its existing authority, the EPA will require each state to submit an individual plan for cutting emissions from power plants. Ultimately, the success or failure of the plan will depend on how -- and if -- states comply with the rules. It will also depend on the courts. Coal-dependent states and coal mining companies are already planning legal challenges to the regulations.
Those coal-dependent states are where Mr. McConnell has trained his fire.
Mr. McConnell opened his campaign on March 3 with an op-ed article published in The Lexington Herald-Leader in Kentucky with the headline, "States should reject Obama mandate for clean-power regulations." Mr. McConnell urged governors to refuse to submit climate change compliance plans to the EPA, citing the arguments of Mr. Tribe.
Mr. McConnell contends that the Obama administration has bypassed Congress and stretched the boundaries of existing law to impose climate change regulations -- and that he intends to step outside of Congress and use creative legal methods to push back.
"The EPA is bypassing Congress and the American people by unilaterally proposing these crippling regulations that would wreak havoc on our economy and are clearly unprecedented," he said. "I have used and will continue to use all of the tools available to protect families and jobs, whether that be in Congress, or outside of the legislative process."
Advocates of Mr. Obama's climate change agenda called Mr. McConnell's actions nearly unprecedented, and a spokesman for the White House assailed Mr. McConnell's moves.
"Climate change is one of the most pressing challenges that we face, and instead of offering solutions, Senator McConnell's alternative is an inappropriate and unfounded attempt to dictate state decisions," said Frank Benenati, the spokesman. "EPA is following the law by proposing clean-air standards to tackle the largest sources of carbon pollution -- the power sector," he said.
While some governors oppose the climate change plan, others are preparing to comply. On Thursday, the National Governors Association announced that four states -- Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania and Utah -- would take part in a program to prepare to meet the climate-change regulations.
But longtime experts in the field of climate change law and policy say that Mr. McConnell's unconventional efforts could prove formidable.
"The majority leader is a master tactician," said Scott Segal, a lobbyist with the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani and the director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, which represents power companies. "He understands the legal vulnerabilities, and he's acutely aware that not all solutions go through traditional legislative channels."
Over the coming weeks and months, Mr. McConnell's office intends to continue to push to undermine the climate regulations, using a host of legal, lobbying and legislative tools.
Less than a week after Mr. McConnell's op-ed article citing Mr. Tribe, Mr. McConnell's friend and fellow Republican, Representative Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, was the chairman of a House hearing designed to highlight the legal challenges to the climate change law. Mr. Whitfield called as his star witness Mr. Tribe -- who in testimony likened Mr. Obama's climate change rules to "burning the Constitution."
In April, Mr. Tribe, representing Peabody Energy, is set to deliver oral arguments in the first federal court case about Mr. Obama's climate change rules.
Mr. McConnell's efforts come on top of an initial groundswell of efforts by Republican governors from coal-dependent states to push back at the rules. Twelve states have already filed suit against the rules.
In Washington, a coalition of nearly 200 industry and lobbying groups, led by the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, has been working together for months on a set of legal and legislative tactics, both in Washington and the states, to block the rules.
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