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Aug. 28 — Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will make it a top priority to derail Environmental Protection Agency regulatory efforts through the appropriations process if Republicans retake the Senate this fall, the senator and several former congressional aides say.
McConnell, who is likely to become Senate majority leader if Republicans take the chamber and he wins his own hotly contested re-election battle in November, would use the appropriations process to specifically fight back against the agency's proposed carbon pollution standards for new and existing power plants. The Kentucky Republican has warned the proposal would further cripple the state's economy, cost jobs and increase the price of electricity.
Senate and House Republicans have previously attempted to attach numerous anti-EPA riders to appropriations packages but have been stopped due to the Democratic-controlled Senate and threats from the White House to veto legislation blocking environmental priorities. Republicans, however, hope they can force President Barack Obama into difficult decisions on whether to veto broad spending packages over environmental riders should they retake the Senate this fall.
Jim Manley, a former top aide to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and now senior director at QGA Public Affairs, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 28 that he expects that attaching anti-EPA riders to appropriations bills would be a “top priority” for McConnell if he became Majority Leader.
“I predict a full-scale assault on environmental regulation,” Manley said.
McConnell himself promised the EPA would be in the crosshairs of the appropriations process during a June 15 meeting with conservative donors. Audio of McConnell's remarks at that meeting was first obtained by The Nation Aug. 26.
“I assure you that in the spending bill, we will be pushing back against this bureaucracy by doing what's called placing riders in the bill,” McConnell said. “We're going to go after them on healthcare, on financial services, on the Environmental Protection Agency, across the board.”
Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, told Bloomberg BNA Aug. 27 the senator plans to continue ongoing efforts through the appropriations process to roll back the EPA's authority, through his efforts have been blocked by Reid so far. Stewart declined to specify whether McConnell would target specific EPA regulations or the agency's authority more broadly if Republicans retake the upper chamber.
It remains unclear whether McConnell could secure the 60 votes needed to overcome a potential filibuster of legislation with the anti-EPA amendments attached in a Republican-controlled Senate. To win control of the Senate this fall, Republicans would probably need to pick off several conservative Democrats that might have supported McConnell's efforts.
In order to continue his efforts beyond this fall, McConnell must first survive what is expected to be a close reelection contest with current Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D). Recent polling in the race shows McConnell with a small but persistent advantage.
Hunter Bates, McConnell's former chief of staff and now a principal at Republic Consulting, said his former boss “will go to great lengths” to stop the so-called war on coal by targeting the EPA.
“Grimes, on the other hand, will never get permission from Reid or Obama—or [environmentalist and political donor] Tom Steyer, for that matter—to do anything other than make a speech back home every now and then,” Bates said, outlining what he sees as one of the key contrasts emerging in the Kentucky race.
Grimes has said previously she would stand up to the Obama administration when its policies are bad for coal interests and pledged she would “fiercely oppose” the EPA's carbon pollution regulations if elected to the Senate.
Several appropriations bills were ultimately pulled from Senate Appropriations Committee consideration in June in response to McConnell's plans for an amendment to halt the EPA's power plant carbon dioxide standards. The White House said it would veto the spending bill if the EPA-related amendments were included.
McConnell has also introduced legislation—the Coal Country Protection Act (S. 2414)—that would effectively prevent the EPA from issuing its carbon pollution regulations without certifying it would not raise electricity prices or harm the economy. Reid has blocked Senate floor consideration of the measure to date.
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McConnell's June comments on his Senate agenda are available at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v87Lr-wmU0I#t=22.
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