Mitch McConnell Asks States to Ignore EPA Rules Regarding Coal--How Will Gov. Brown Respond?

Kyle Curtis Facebook

Coal is a 19th century energy source. Do you know what else was used for energy in the 19th century? Whale oil. Its time to get up with the times and invest in a 21st--even a 22nd century--infrastructure that relies on renewables and green energy.

In a front-page story from Friday's New York Times, reporter Coral Davenport describes Senator Mitch McConnell's efforts to side-step the EPA's regulations to reduce the amount of carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country.

Despite having little power in his role as Senate Majority Leader to prevent the EPA from exercising its rule-making authority, Davenport writes that by appealing directly to statehouses and courtrooms, McConnell hopes to "ensure that the state plans [to reduce carbon emissions from caol] are tangled up in legal delays."

Northwest governors are likely to see tremendous pressure from McConnell's anti-EPA lobbying blitzkreig. Despite Governor Kitzhaber's declaration last year that it is "time once and for all to say no" to increased coal exports--followed by the state's denial of the Coyote Island coal terminal in Boardman--the subject of coal exports from Oregon is far from settled. McConnell's efforts may put renewed pressure on Governors Brown and Islee to allow terminals to be built on the Columbia River in St. Helens and Longview to erxport coal abroad to China and India.

Just one month since unexpectedly finding herself Oregon's governor, it will be interested to see how Kate Brown will respond to Mitch McConnell's bullying tactics regarding these EPA regulations. Considering the showdown that occurred in the debate to extend Oregon's "Clean Fuels" bill--and the upcoming clash that is sure to develop in response to proposed "Coal to Clean" legislation--will McConnell's efforts prove to be helpful in circumventing Oregon's efforts to reduce reliance on perhaps the cheapest (and dirtiest) fossil fuels?

(When asked if Governor Brown planned to publicly respond to Senator McConnell's letter, spokesperson Melissa Navas revealed that the Governor's Office had yet to review the letter, which was addressed to the National Governor's Association. )

From a realpolitik view, McConnell's moves make sense beyond a simple reflexive opposition to anything proposed by President Obama. As the senior Senator from Kentucky, Mitch McConnell represents a poor coal-producing state, and as such he needs to nominally make a show of representing the issues of his constituents. However, when he stumped through the economically ravaged coal-mining towns of southern Kentucky last election season, did he bother to point out that an increased reliance on natural gas has resulted in a global collapse of coal prices? Or did he simply repeat the "Obama = bad" and "War on Coal" nonsense talking points ad nauseum.?

If Senator McConnell were to be frank and honest with his constituents, it would be a fool's effort, because its not as if he could necessarily sue the natural gas industry for being cheaper, more efficient and negatively impacting coal prices. Instead, he is using this tactical approach of communicating directly with state governors and legal advocacy groups to ensure that the EPA's rule-making authority granted under the Clean Air Act is tied up in red tape. Is it unusual for a leader in the Legislative branch to make an end-run around the Executive? Of course, but that's about par for the course in regards to how the current crop of Republicans have interacted with President Obama. (Remember, let's not forget Senator Turtle-Human Hybrid's most-repeated phrase in response to any policy proposed by Obama that runs counter to the wishes of the Republicans: "Let's not poison the well." As if sending a legal outline to oppose the EPA's coal-burning regulations wouldn't fit the definition of literally poisoning the well or anything.)

Also, keep in mind that the majority of coal produced in the United States is not intended for domestic consumption, but instead to be exported abroad to foreign markets. Yet, these same countries are making it increasingly clear that they don't want this toxic, asthma & cancer-causing product for an energy source regardless of historically low prices. Yes, China and India are building coal plants daily, but these plants are created with the same pollution-reducing efficiencies targeted in the EPA's proposed regulations that McConnell is seeking to torpedo. [Taxes on imported U.S.--and Australian--coal] (http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2014/08/20/increase-in-coal-tax-will-scale-up-indian-renewables/) have been substantially raised by countries that are no longer willing to be the dumping ground for the world's cheapest & dirtiest source of energy. Governments of both countries have set targeted goals for coal reductions in upcoming years, spelling even more economic trouble for a coal industry that viewed foreign markets as a last possible chance of survival.

McConnell may ultimately end up thwarting President Obama and the EPA's efforts to regulate coal pollution at the state level. But that won't put a halt to the global coal industry's collapse in the face of declining demand. Coal is a 19th century energy source. Do you know what else was used for energy in the 19th century? Whale oil. Its time to get up with the times and invest in a 21st--even a 22nd century--infrastructure that relies on renewables and green energy. We have the technology, the know-how, and the good ol' American sense of innovation to make this happen. But first we need outdated and irrelevant dinosaurs like Mitch McConnell to get out of the way.

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