By Coral Davenport, New York Times
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 E.P.A. 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.”
Photo credit: Gage Skidmore