Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe is accusing the Environmental Protection Agency of slow-walking its carbon emissions rule for new power plants to protect vulnerable Senate Democrats in the November midterm elections.
At issue is the 66 days between when the EPA proposed the rule on Sept. 20 and Nov. 25, the day it was sent to the Federal Register. The rule wasn't officially published in the Federal Register until Jan. 8, and the Clean Air Act allows for a year-long review before finalization.
That's key, the Oklahoma Republican said, because that timeline bars Senate Republicans from using the Congressional Review Act to force a vote on the carbon rules. The maneuver requires a majority vote to call for votes on regulations, but it can be used only after rules are finalized.
Inhofe charged in a letter to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy that the agency wanted ensure the regulatory review process ended after the elections to avoid such a scenario, which would have put several vulnerable Democrats in red-leaning states in a tough spot.
"Based on the sequence of events, it appears that the delay in the proposal’s publication may have been motivated by a desire to lessen the impact of the president’s harmful environmental policies on this year’s mid-term elections. If EPA had kept the timetable mandated by the president, it would have been obligated to finalize the new rule about six weeks before the 2014 elections," Inhofe said in the letter, which was publicized Tuesday.
Liz Purchia, an agency spokeswoman, said the EPA followed a standard process.
"EPA follows routine interagency and internal processes to ensure that formatting, consistency and quality control issues are addressed before any rule package is published in the Federal Register. This is a normal part of the rulemaking process, and the time needed for these procedures varies for each rule," she said.
EPA officials have said that the 16-day government shutdown in October contributed to the time lapse. The agency also has said that it wanted to take time constructing the rule, which is sure to invite legal challenges from the energy industry whenever it is completed.
The carbon rule for new power plants, with one for existing facilities, is a cornerstone of President Obama's second-term climate agenda.
Both rules are politically controversial. Proponents say they will restrain greenhouse gas emissions, helping to blunt climate change and improve public health. But opponents say they will raise energy costs and stunt economic activity.
Where some Democrats who are running in tight races stand on the carbon rules is uncertain -- even some environmental groups are withholding endorsements until those positions become clearer.
Likewise, conservative groups have been fixing to tie vulnerable Democrats to the carbon rules. The National Republican Senatorial Committee, for example, blasted Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., for what they labeled as "extreme views" for participating in a March all-night climate event on the Senate floor.