McConnell, McCarthy to face off in budget hearing

By Jean Chemnick | 04/27/2015 07:26 AM EDT

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will come face to face this week with one of the most powerful political opponents of her agency’s Clean Power Plan when she visits Capitol Hill to make her case for fiscal 2016 funding.

U.S. EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy will come face to face this week with one of the most powerful political opponents of her agency’s Clean Power Plan when she visits Capitol Hill to make her case for fiscal 2016 funding.

The administrator will testify Wednesday afternoon before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee on which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell serves. The Kentucky Republican has spent the winter and spring striving to convince state officials to "just say no" to EPA’s flagship carbon rule.

He has advised them in letters and newspaper columns that the proposal for existing power plants is on shaky legal footing, and that EPA lacks power to enforce the kinds of reductions it demands of states. The only way EPA can gain that power, McConnell argues, is if governors hand it to the federal agency by submitting state implementation plans that become federally enforceable (Greenwire, March 4).


The Senate’s most powerful member has offered himself as a legislative champion for states he says would be harmed by the rule. "I won’t stand idly by while the administration tries to ram it past my constituents in an illegal or unconstitutional manner," he wrote in a recent Lexington Herald-Leader op-ed. He added, "It’s a fight I intend to win."

It is not clear what form McConnell’s offensive will take; he said recently it was still taking shape. But a likely strategy involves adding language to legislation funding EPA and the Interior Department for the coming fiscal year. Such riders have been successful in the GOP-led House for several years, but it is unclear whether they could pass muster in the Senate. President Obama would be likely to veto any bill that scuttled his marquee climate rule.

McConnell has also shown an interest in using the Congressional Review Act to veto EPA’s rules. His bid to use the CRA to kill the new power plant proposal faltered last year because it was still in draft form (E&E Daily, May 30, 2014).

McConnell’s office did not return inquires Friday about whether he will press Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) to include policy language in her panel’s spending bill to limit the EPA rule.

Murkowski spokesman Robert Dillon said the chairwoman would use the hearing to drive home points she made in a recent one-on-one meeting with McCarthy about the way the Clean Power Plan would affect rural Alaska, especially generation that serves tiny, isolated communities on the North Slope. Those facilities may not have access to the kinds of reductions that are possible in more concentrated population centers in the Lower 48, Dillon said.

"The rules don’t pencil out," he said.

But while Murkowski has been critical of the Clean Power Plan and the similarly contentious "Waters of the U.S." rule — and both are likely to be brought up Wednesday — Dillon said decisions had not been made yet about any policy riders.

Budget battle

Murkowski has called the president’s fiscal 2016 overall request "wishful thinking."

She, McConnell, and other Interior and Environment subpanel Republicans seem unlikely to embrace the president’s call for a 6 percent raise for EPA funding in fiscal 2016, especially as it includes a boost in funding for regulatory activities.

The proposal would increase funding for Clean Air Act regulatory activity from its current level of $448 million to $487 million, with much of the increase going to support EPA’s bid to finalize the three power plant carbon standards this summer. A $4 billion request for a new infrastructure fund outside the proposed discretionary budget is also likely to raise eyebrows. Administered by EPA, the fund would go to states that exceed the Clean Power Plan’s requirements by reducing emissions quicker or deeper than mandated.

Overall, EPA is asking for $8.6 billion for the fiscal year that begins in October (Greenwire, Feb. 2). The request includes cuts in funding for the popular Clean Water and Drinking Water state revolving funds, though not as steep as in previous years. The budget blueprint’s $2.3 billion proposal for the programs is a $54 million cut from fiscal 2015 enacted levels that Congress seems likely to restore.

Wednesday is McCarthy’s fourth Capitol Hill appearance this year to defend her agency’s budget before appropriations and authorizing committees in both the House and Senate.

McConnell’s Kentucky colleague, House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers (R), left little doubt during a February hearing that he planned to see EPA’s budget cut. He told McCarthy he was "disappointed" that EPA planned to spend so much money on its "war on coal" (E&E Daily, Feb. 27).

The House also announced last week that it would clamp down on funding for environmental programs in fiscal 2016 overall, leaving less money for EPA and other agencies (E&E Daily, April 23).

McCarthy will be accompanied Wednesday by EPA acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom.

Schedule: The hearing is Wednesday, April 29, at 2:30 pm. in Dirksen 124.

Witnesses: EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy and EPA acting Chief Financial Officer David Bloom.