Vulnerable GOP candidates react to CPP with measured tone

By Jennifer Yachnin | 08/04/2015 07:14 AM EDT

While Senate Republican leaders pressed ahead yesterday with vows to curb U.S. EPA’s Clean Power Plan, lawmakers faced with potentially tough re-election fights in 2016 offered a more measured approach to the new regulation.

Republicans like New Hampshire Sen. Kelly Ayotte vowed to "carefully review" nearly 1,600 pages of a new rule aimed at decreasing carbon emissions from existing power plants, at the same time Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pledged to fight funding the regulation in Congress and urged state governments to refuse to comply (E&ENews PM, Aug. 3).

Although Ayotte has yet to draw a challenger, her seat is high on the Democratic radar as the party looks to flip the five seats it would need to regain control of the Senate chamber next year. Democrats would like to see Gov. Maggie Hassan enter the race to challenge the incumbent.

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In a statement, Ayotte pointed to her experience as the state’s attorney general and her past work on clean air and water laws.

"Our state has a long, bipartisan tradition of working to advance common sense, balanced environmental regulations that preserve the Granite State’s pristine landscape while allowing our economy to thrive, and I will continue that approach as I carefully review EPA’s final rule to understand its impacts on our state’s environment and our economy," Ayotte said in a statement.

Ohio Sen. Rob Portman (R) — whose Senate seat is also a top target for Democrats this cycle — similarly vowed to take a "close look" at the regulation, despite having sponsored legislation earlier this year that would allow states to ignore the federal rule if they determine the regulations would increase electricity prices or impede economic growth.

"We’ve got to have a balanced approach to both protect our environment and help middle-class families make ends meet. I have fought for this balance, and I know it can be done," Portman said, pointing to the "Energy Efficiency Improvement Act," which he sponsored earlier this year.

He added: "I intend to take a close look at the administration’s plan to reduce carbon, but I am concerned that it doesn’t give Ohio the flexibility we need, kills jobs and unfairly burdens Ohio families with skyrocketing electricity bills at a time when the middle-class squeeze is very real."

Both former Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland and Cincinnati City Councilman P.G. Sittenfeld are competing for the Democratic nod and the right to take on Portman.

But Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet (D), whose Centennial State seat is a top target for Republicans after the party successfully flipped the state’s other seat last year, embraced the new rule and praised the Obama administration for extending deadlines for emissions reductions.

"As we continue to review the plan, we will work closely with the administration and state officials to ensure communities across the state are treated fairly and have access to the tools, support, information and resources they need," said Bennet, who has yet to draw a Republican challenger. "Colorado’s economy is already being threatened by unchecked climate change. It is hurting our agriculture and outdoor recreation businesses, threatening our quality of life, and will become more expensive to address the longer we wait. This plan is an important step toward curbing carbon pollution and addressing climate change."

Other candidates remained publicly mum on the final rule, including Illinois Sen. Mark Kirk (R), who has already faced more than $1 million in critical advertising from environmental groups.

And Rep. Tammy Duckworth, who is competing with Chicago Board of Education member Andrea Zopp for the Democratic nod, hailed the measure on public media for "protecting our air for generations to come."

Presidential candidates

Presidential primary contenders also split along party lines on the measure, with Republicans asserting that the rule will increase utility costs and cost jobs while Democrats cheered the measure for its environmental protections and said it would create jobs related to renewable energy.

"It would be like a buzz saw to the nation’s economy," Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said during an appearance at the Voters First Republican Presidential Forum at Saint Anselm College in New Hampshire last night. "I want to balance a sustainable environment with a sustainable economy. … The two have to go hand in hand."

Candidates at the forum answered individual questions, and Walker answered the only direct question on the Clean Power Plan.

But other candidates addressed the impact to individual states, including Florida Sen. Marco Rubio (R), who said the rule would "hurt our economy badly."

"It will make the cost of electricity higher for millions of Americans," Rubio said. "So if there was some billionaire somewhere who was a pro-environmental, cap-and-trade person, yeah, they can probably afford for their electric bill to go up a couple hundred of dollars. But if you’re a single mom in Tampa, Florida, and your electric bill goes up by $30 a month, that is catastrophic."

Democratic contenders including former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (I) praised the rule.

"The Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan is a significant step forward in meeting the urgent threat of climate change," Clinton said in a statement Sunday. "It sets a smart federal standard that gives states the flexibility to choose how to reduce carbon pollution most effectively. And it drives investments in clean energy and energy efficiency, reduces asthma attacks and premature deaths, and promotes a healthier environment and a stronger economy. It’s a good plan, and as President, I’d defend it."

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