Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Thursday that he wants to use a congressional maneuver to force a vote to repeal proposed Environmental Protection Agency emissions rules for new power plants.
The Kentucky Republican said he and 40 other Republicans would seek to use the Congressional Review Act to compel that vote. The little-used rule calls for the Senate or the House to pass a resolution of disapproval that would allow lawmakers to repeal "major" rules with a simple majority vote. The law applies to rules that have an annual economic impact of at least $100 million; cause a major increase in costs to consumers, governments and businesses; or lead to a significant adverse effect on competition, employment, investment and U.S. companies' global competitiveness.
The EPA rule's detractors on Capitol Hill and in industry say it would do just that by raising energy costs.
But it's uncertain whether the ploy would work, as the Congressional Review Act is reserved for challenging final rules. The EPA proposed the rule last week, making its finalization about one year away.
President Obama would almost certainly veto the resolution, which would tear down a cornerstone of his climate agenda. And Republicans, who have tried and failed with this approach in previous attempts to block EPA regulations, wouldn't have the votes to override it.
The Sierra Club, which says the rule will cut medical costs and curb greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change, slammed McConnell's move.
"Mitch McConnell has made a sport out of abusing Senate rules, and now he's just inventing new ones as it suits him. That's not how lawmaking works," said Melinda Pierce, deputy legislative director with the Sierra Club. "McConnell's political maneuver is like asking for instant replay before the football is even snapped."
McConnell, however, argued the surfacing of the proposed rule "immediately changes the legal landscape for anyone seeking to develop a fossil fuel power plant."
In a letter to Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro, McConnell said compliance with the proposed EPA rule is not attainable without carbon capture and sequestration systems that "are still in the developmental stages and are extremely costly."
The EPA rule would bar construction of new coal-fired power plants without the technology, which traps carbon emissions and stores them underground.
Opponents say the technology won't be ready by the time the rule takes effect, and that it's too costly to deploy at commercial scale.
EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy defended the rule Thursday at a Senate Environment and Public Works Committee hearing, saying, "I am very confident that you will see that [carbon capture and sequestration technology] is proven to be technically feasible."