Alert: Inhofe to Speak on Effort to Stop War on Coal at Noon on Senate Floor
June 12, 2012
Posted by Katie Brown Katie_Brown@epw.senate.gov
Today, Tuesday, June 12 at noon, Senator James Inhofe (R-Okla.), Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, will speak on the Senate floor about the growing momentum to stop the Obama-Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) war on coal, which has been so great that Senators Alexander and Pryor have found it necessary to introduce a cover vote for Senators who find themselves in a tough spot. Will members of the US Senate stand with their constituents and vote to end President Obama’s war on coal or will they hide behind a cover bill and allow President Obama to destroy their constituents’ jobs?While Senator Inhofe’s resolution requires EPA to go back to the drawing board to craft a rule in which utilities can actually comply, the measure that Senators Alexander and Pryor are offering would keep Utility MACT in place but delay the rule for six years.
Inhofe's last stand on the EPA
By Erica Martinson and Darren Goode
6/12/12 10:39 AM EDT
Sen. Jim Inhofe wants his drive to repeal the EPA's new mercury and air toxics standards for power plants to be a campaign issue for his colleagues - but his colleagues have other plans.
Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Pryor (R-Ark.) will introduce legislation as early as Wednesday giving companies six years to comply with the rule - also called the utility MACT - a Senate GOP aide said.
Their measure will provide cover to senators who don't want to vote for Inhofe's Congressional Review Act resolution to repeal the rule but who want to be on record opposing the EPA. The CRA requires only 50 votes for passage, but stand-alone legislation would probably need to clear a 60-vote hurdle.
The resolution from Inhofe (R-Okla.) is expected to come up in the next week.
The Alexander-Pryor bill is a huge blow to an intensive lobbying campaign waged by Inhofe and some of his tea party supporters to convince senators that the CRA vote is a last chance to make a stand for coal - and that they will be held accountable for their votes.
The CRA - like similar previous GOP challenges to EPA's rules - wasn't ever expected to gain enough votes to pass.
But that's almost beside the point.
"We see this as a bookend," said Matt Dempsey, spokesman for Inhofe on the Environment and Public Works Committee.
On the other end of the shelf is a bill that Inhofe and House Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.) offered at the start of this Congress to prevent the EPA from issuing climate change regulations. That language passed the GOP-controlled House but predictably died in the Senate.
Since then, Republicans have hammered away with House-passed energy and EPA measures as part of their messaging campaign. The utility MACT challenge is probably the last Senate vote on EPA before the November elections.
"This is about drawing a circle around people with coal communities in their states," said Mike McKenna, a Republican energy and environmental adviser.
So the tea party and other conservative groups are using the vote to target some Senate Democrats up for reelection in coal and manufacturing country - including Ohio's Sherrod Brown, Pennsylvania's Bob Casey, Missouri's Claire McCaskill and West Virginia's Joe Manchin.
Manchin's vote is easily locked up for Inhofe while Casey and McCaskill are a tougher get. Brown has said he plans to vote against the CRA.
Manchin and Alexander are among the targets of a $1 million advertising push by the group American Commitment leading up to this week's vote, aiming to pressure senators to oppose what they call the Obama administration's "War on Coal." The group is running television, radio and Web ads in Maine, New Hampshire, Tennessee and West Virginia through Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Obama's coal policies and EPA regulations remain prime targets for groups explicitly tying the issue to November.
The tea party-backing FreedomWorks has bought Google ads as part of an online campaign in Florida, Missouri, Nebraska, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee and West Virginia, ahead of the upcoming vote on the EPA's utility MACT. And the group will "likely continue it for a while afterwards," said chief economist Wayne Brough.
"Once the vote occurs, if in fact it doesn't pass, I think we have to use that as an opportunity not to let the issue go away and remind them they disappointed a lot of people with the vote they took," he said.
Like American Commitment, FreedomWorks is targeting not just Democrats up for reelection in 2012 but also Alexander, who could face a challenge from the right in the 2014 GOP primary.
Alexander has pointed to air quality concerns in his state to justify opposing efforts to do away with some EPA rules. He went against an earlier Congressional Review Act challenge late last year from Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), which aimed to overturn EPA's rule limiting power plant pollution across state lines.
"There's a lot of disenchantment with the votes he's taking," Brough said. "I think he's clearly sending a signal to a lot of the tea party groups that he's taking positions that aren't necessarily what they see are the best ones for the country."
Green groups may also use the vote as a reason to commend or shame individual senators.
"There's no doubt this is going to be a black mark for a lot of members of Congress who vote the wrong way," said Navin Nayak, senior vice president for campaigns at the League of Conservation Voters.
How the groups will use the vote isn't yet clear, Nayak said. "I think groups are still figuring out that piece," he said.
Meanwhile, the NRDC Action Fund powered up its "Dirty 30" campaign Tuesday with a social media campaign pressuring Inhofe to release the names of the senators who signed a petition to allow the CRA vote on the EPA utility rules. Thirty signatures are needed to allow a CRA vote.
Getting Inhofe to release the names is "the biggest thing. We don't think you should be able to hide like this," said fund director Heather Taylor-Miesle.
Inhofe's staff has repeatedly declined to provide a list of those who signed the petition, but Dempsey said the lawmaker would reveal the names of supporters over the course of this week.
Like many of Inhofe's supporters, NRDC's Action Fund doesn't plan to let the issue rest after the vote. "Of course we're going to consider accountability - probably very aggressive accountability" for Senate votes on the CRA, Taylor-Miesle said, both "on the negative and the positive side."
"If folks took a vote that may cause them to be a target of the fossil fuel industry ... then we want to make sure that we're out there telling the truth on all matters," Taylor-Miesle said.
NRDC's lobbyists have been making rounds on the Hill too, Taylor-Miesle said, targeting senators who seem to be on the fence.
Greens aren't the only ones making noise about the power plant rule: On Tuesday, 91 mayors - many of them from so-called "coal states" such as Kentucky, Pennsylvania and Tennessee - expressed support for the rule in a letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson.
It is "cities that have to deal with local air pollution. It's mayors that see their constituents go to the hospital for asthma attacks," said Rit Aggarwala, environmental program lead at Bloomberg Philanthropy. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is a lead supporter of the mayors who wrote the letter and a vocal supporter of the EPA rule. Bloomberg Philanthropy also gave $50 million to the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign.
The mayors are a key voice for senators, most of whom depend on populous cities - and their elected leaders - when it comes to reelection.
Some senators had already made up their minds by Monday night. Like Brown in Ohio, Michigan Democrat Debbie Stabenow plans to vote against the CRA.
"I don't support that," Stabenow told POLITICO regarding Inhofe's proposal. "I've been working with the EPA on ways to make sure that there's as much flexibility as utilities transition as possible."
"We've waited long enough on this, I think," Brown said of the EPA rules. "How many years have they been delayed?"
But Democratic Nebraska Sen. Ben Nelson is in the Inhofe camp.
"The EPA has gotten the idea somewhere they're the fourth branch of government," Nelson said Monday. But he doesn't seem to blame President Barack Obama: "The alphabet agencies always run amok no matter who's in the White House," he said.
Nelson asserted that nobody has lobbied him on the issue, on which he is "very firm."
Others are still troubled.
Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.), for example, has run into problems in the past for his anti-EPA votes and flipped to vote with the Democrats on several issues. He told POLITICO on Monday that he still wants to learn more on the upcoming vote before he decides.
And Casey, who voted with Republicans on an amendment to halt EPA's boiler rule, seems to still be weighing his options. "We're looking at it. It's coming up maybe next week?" he said Monday.
Inhofe has repeatedly jabbed McCaskill in recent weeks, though she has said she's not going to vote for the CRA. Both sides of the fight are putting pressure on Montana Sen. Jon Tester as well, sources say.