Top Republican spars with EPA chief on Obama climate agenda

Senate majority leader McConnell attacks legal footing of US headline carbon-cutting policy in Capitol Hill hearing

Mitch McConnell speaking in 2011 (Flickr/ gage Skidmore)

Mitch McConnell speaking in 2011 (Flickr/ gage Skidmore)

By Alex Pashley

Senior Republican Mitch McConnell squared off against Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy on Wednesday, in a new bid to obstruct American climate plans.

The staunch opponent to climate action contended Congress could throw out rules to limit power plant emissions through a technical provision in the Clean Air Act.

The US intends to slash greenhouse gas emissions by up to 28% from 2005 levels by 2025 – its contribution to a global UN-backed pact to rein in global warming.

To meet targets, green regulator the EPA requires all states to sign up to improve power plant efficiency and reduce energy demand, calculated on an individual basis.

The Kentucky Republican has declared the Clean Power Plan “illegal” and said it will destroy his state’s major coal industry, leading to lay-offs and higher energy bills.

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During the Senate subcommittee deciding the agency’s 2016 budget, McConnell argued multi-state agreements needed Congressional approval.

A Republican-controlled Congress would block the administration’s passage of the bill, he said.

“How in the world do you intend to force my state to comply with a federal plan? What are you going to require Kentucky to do?” he said.

McConnell said that all gubernatorial candidates to take over as Kentucky governor when Democrat Steve Beshear steps down in December would work against the agency.

Observers say the EPA will write states’ plans for them if they refuse. Over two-thirds have raised legal objections to the rules.

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EPA administrator McCarthy defended the agency’s mandate and said it was flexible with states’ individual circumstances.

“I believe we are acting under the authority that Congress gave us under the Clean Air Act and we are going to be producing a rule that is going to withstand the test of time in the courts,” she said.

McConnell appointed himself to the EPA budget panel in February to fight the “anti-coal regulations”.

Kentucky is the US’s third biggest coal producer, accounting for 8.2% of production in 2013, according to the US Energy Information Agency. Three of its power plants were ranked in the country’s 100 largest in 2012.

The EPA is expected to finalise the curbs this summer with states required to deliver proposals a year later.

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