Senate Republicans are considering a range of legislative options for pushing back on U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, even as some lawmakers said they’re trying to better understand the effect of key revisions in the final rule for their home states.
The most immediate response will start its journey tomorrow, when the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee will mark up S. 1324, which would allow states to opt out of the rules and prevent EPA from imposing a backup federal plan (see related story).
Chief sponsor Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) said yesterday that the timing of a floor debate in the fall was unclear but that she expects GOP leaders to take it up sooner rather than later.
Meanwhile, Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) is preparing two Congressional Review Act disapproval resolutions against the CPP, which he predicted would garner some support from Democrats.
While disapproval resolutions can pass both chambers by simple majorities, they are still subject to presidential vetoes, which Inhofe acknowledged is a steep climb.
"The problem with that is then you have to have a veto-proof majority," he told reporters. "I think we have over 50 votes."
Inhofe said he also plans an "all of the above" approach to fighting the rules, calling an appropriations rider "a good bet."
The Senate’s fiscal 2016 Interior-Environment spending bill already contains a rider barring EPA from imposing a federal plan on uncooperative states, but the administration has signaled that the president won’t sign an appropriations bill targeting what is seen as a legacy issue for President Obama.
Asked whether the Clean Power Plan fight could spark a government shutdown, Inhofe initially called the rule "serious enough where it might be worth that" but quickly walked back his comment.
"We wouldn’t do that," he told reporters. "All we’re going to do is try to stop the rules, particularly on the big one we’re talking about."
Some Republicans said they still needed more information about Inhofe’s resolutions before jumping on board.
"I don’t know yet," Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said when asked if he would support the disapproval measures. But Daines reiterated his opposition to the rules, saying they represented executive "overreach" on the part of Obama.
"They’re going to have a direct harm on working families across Montana and across America," Daines added.
And at least a few moderate Democrats who have parted ways with the Obama administration on energy policy in the past signaled some inclination to voting against the plan.
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) said she would explore "all options" to block the EPA regulations and remained open to Inhofe’s procedural move.
"I’m very disappointed in the final rule," Heitkamp said, citing concerns about its potential effect on electrical reliability in states like North Dakota. "I’m definitely going to take a look at all options to push back against this regulation."
Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) wouldn’t commit to supporting a disapproval resolution but wouldn’t rule it out, either.
"Every option’s open on this one," he told E&E Daily, saying the CPP flies in the face of federal predictions of coal as a continued power source for decades.
Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), who has defended the Clean Air Act in the past, declined to comment on the CPP, which he hadn’t read. But he acknowledged that some changes may help nuclear power, a power source he favors.
However, he derided the plan’s emphasis on renewables. "Basically, it’s a national windmill policy in spades," he told E&E Daily. "That’s the downside of it. A big manufacturing country like this can’t operate on windmills."
One senator to watch is Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), who chairs the Appropriations subcommittee that funds EPA. Alaska was among the states and territories that were exempted from the rules announced yesterday, and Murkowski said she thanked EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy for acknowledging that her state’s unique circumstances make the CPP a tough fit.
"She said, we realize we didn’t have the data on Alaska, and we didn’t have the data for good reason — because effectively it doesn’t exist," Murkowski recounted of yesterday’s phone call scheduled at McCarthy’s request. "And so she said we felt like we could not advance this at least for some time. Those were cautionary words to me, so I asked her specifically what that might mean if later down the road it was their intention to bring Alaska in, and she indicated again, she repeated several times, that she did not think it was possible for a long time because of Alaska’s unique situation."
Despite her state catching a break on the CPP, she said she hasn’t considered how she might vote on efforts to rein in the plan.
"This is an important part of my job," she said. "Not only am I representing Alaska, but I’m trying to set energy policy for the country through our work on the Energy Committee. So I have to look at this plan for a broader application."