Politico: EPA rules could hurt Obama in 2012
October 4, 2010
Posted by David Lungren David_Lungren@epw.senate.gov
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EPA rules could hurt Obama in 2012
By Darren Samuelsohn
October 4, 2010
President Barack Obama's Environmental Protection Agency is putting some hazardous speed bumps on his 2012 electoral road in key swing states.
Controversial rules covering everything from power plants to petroleum refiners, manufacturers, coal mines and farmers could come back to haunt the White House in industrial and Midwestern states that carried Obama to the presidency two years ago.
Political battlegrounds like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Virginia that Obama won in 2008 will be watching how the EPA moves on climate change. Coal-reliant states such as Missouri - which Obama lost by less than 1 percentage point - will be monitoring clean air rules and coal ash standards. And farm states that Obama carried, including Indiana, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin, are waiting on a proposal to tighten air quality limits for microscopic soot.
Obama's situation is tricky. He campaigned on the need to address climate change and faces pressure on his left to tackle a range of issues that environmentalists complain were neglected by former President George W. Bush.
But with EPA regulations expected to come out in rapid-fire succession over the next two years, Republican presidential hopefuls are already adding them to the larger, anti-Obama narrative against expansive government.
"Some of the things his administration is proposing are just disastrous in the heartland," Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said in an interview. "If he has any hope of winning votes in the center of the country, then he is going to have to reconsider a lot of these things the EPA and some of his agencies are trying to get done."
Mississippi GOP Gov. Haley Barbour said he's looking forward to Obama's environmental policies surfacing during the race. "Hopefully, those issues will be at issue," he said.
For their part, some Democrats who represent an industrial region battered by the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression are worried as well.
West Virginia Gov. Joe Manchin, for example, told POLITICO that the EPA's climate policies, alongside plans designed to overhaul disposal methods for toxic coal ash waste, have put his state out of play for Obama in 2012.
"Not even close to a chance," said Manchin, who is running for the Senate in part by railing against the president's green agenda. "Not even in the ballgame."
Administration officials are well aware of the political risks ahead and the impression that EPA actions will harm the economy. They insist they are making smart decisions, responsive to public health risks, that won't result in the dire consequences being repeated - often erroneously - by opponents to stir up public fear.
"Today's forecasts of economic doom are almost identical, word for word, to the doomsday predictions over the last 40 years," EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said last month during an event to commemorate the passage of the Clean Air Act.
Obama can't be seen as meddling in the EPA's efforts, either. Carol Browner, former President Bill Clinton's EPA administrator and now Obama's top energy and climate adviser, and other top Democrats often criticized the Bush White House for trumping a number of EPA decisions.
A White House official said there's a clear separation between the agency's mission and any presidential politics.
"The EPA must follow science and its legal obligations, but the president has consistently advocated for a legislative means of addressing climate change that would create millions of jobs in the U.S. and enhance our competitiveness abroad," the official said.
Nikki Roy, vice president for federal government outreach at the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, said he expects the Obama EPA will be successful in navigating the political land mines.
"If handled poorly, they could" affect the election, Roy said. "But that tells me this administration has every reason not to handle them poorly. They'll look for opportunities to be as rational as possible."
Whether Obama blinks over the next two years because of the electoral map is a big question. If they win the House or Senate next month, Republicans - and some like-minded Democrats - could force the issue.
The groundwork is already laid for action on several fronts. Last week, 41 senators, including 18 Democrats, raised concerns over the reach of new air toxin regulation for industrial boilers. And 21 senators called the soot proposal the "most stringent and unparalleled regulation of dust in our nation's history."
Sen. John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and Republican lawmakers are pushing for a floor vote to block for two years the climate rules expected in January 2011. Obama has threatened to veto that measure, but many observers expect his reelection bid may prompt a reversal.
"At some point, especially if the job numbers keep looking bad, he may feel forced to go ahead and sign one of those," said Chelsea Maxwell, who served as the top climate change aide to former Sen. John Warner (R-Va.).
"I hope Congress will stop" the EPA," said Barbour. "If Congress is not willing to pass legislation because they think it's bad policy, they certainly shouldn't let some nameless, faceless bureaucrats impose those policies on the American people."
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who worked with Obama earlier this year on climate legislation, said the issue will be a factor in 2012 if the president must rely on the EPA to drive his global warming agenda.
"Ohio is going to be the ultimate swing state," Graham said. "So if they lower the boom on carbon through the EPA, he's going to have a real problem in Ohio."
But some Democrats see Obama's environmental policy, if framed the right way, as a winner on the campaign trail, even in tough Rust Belt states.
"It's no longer jobs versus the environment. Done right, efforts to reduce emissions can mean jobs," said Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown. "For example, [corporate average fuel economy] standards both increased air quality and made American manufacturers more competitive."
Dan Weiss, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, said the Republicans' message on the environment could turn off the wider audience that's needed to win the White House.
"This is something aimed at the base, but as public opinion stands today, it would actually be hurtful in a general election," Weiss said.
A survey by Democratic pollster Joel Benenson and the Natural Resources Defense Council in late summer found that 60 percent of respondents supported government regulating greenhouse gases, with 34 percent opposed.
As for the EPA, respondents gave a 51 percent favorable rating to the agency, compared with 40 percent opposed. And 54 percent said they are "confident" that the EPA is up to the job of regulating greenhouse gases, with 42 percent "not confident."
Graham said he would warn Republicans against going too far in challenging Obama's policies, especially if they don't have their own solid alternatives.
"It's not like it's his problem only," Graham said. "Part of it is our problem. If we go too far, and we basically belittle those who believe the air should be cleaner when it comes to carbon pollution, then we risk alienating younger voters."