Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, who is running in a surprisingly close race for reelection this year, would like to overturn an EPA regulation on greenhouse gasses, despite that regulation not actually existing yet.
In his second inaugural address last January, President Obama announced a new focus on climate change in his second term, a threat that he acted on in June by announcing new regulations reducing emissions from coal-burning power plants. Coal-burning power plants are the main contributor to carbon dioxide emissions, and with carbon emissions increasing in 2013 after years of decline, the long-delayed — and court-mandated — restrictions are well overdue.
McConnell hates the idea of those restrictions. Most Republicans do, not being particularly motivated by concerns over climate change and not being particularly fond of new government rules. But McConnell really hates the idea of them, because McConnell represents Kentucky and Kentucky is an enthusiastic coal-producing state. (In 2012, it had the third-most coal production of any state.) So McConnell will do whatever he can to block this EPA regulation, up-to-and-including invoking the little-used Congressional Review Act, a tool introduced by Republicans in the Gingrich/Contract With America era that gave Congress the ability to reject executive branch regulations.
The Hill reports that McConnell, speaking from the Senate floor on Thursday, announced his plan. "I — along with about 40 Republican co-sponsors, including my friend and fellow Kentuckian Rand Paul — intend to file a resolution of disapproval under the Congressional Review Act to ensure a vote to stop this devastating rule," he said.
But, as The Wire reported last week, that rule doesn't exist. The EPA's process for developing new regulations is an intentionally slow and labor-intensive one, involving the introduction of a proposal, a period for feedback, the finalization of the rule, and analysis by the White House. We're at step one in the process. The point of the CRA is to block a regulation at the last step. As The Hill says, "normally a rule must be finalized for a congressional review to be sought." But, "an aide to McConnell said a vote can happen."
Well, yeah, "a vote" can happen, such as on a "resolution of disapproval." But how do you "ensure a vote to stop" a rule when there isn't a rule? For example, what if the final EPA rule, after feedback and so on, mandates for some reason that power plants emit more carbon dioxide? Does that get blocked?
The problem McConnell's facing is precisely that the EPA process is slow — certainly too slow for his primary battle against conservative Matt Bevin and almost certainly too slow for his likely November fight against Alison Lundergan Grimes. McConnell needs to say that he "used the Congressional Review Act to oppose Obama's war on coal" (or whatever) right now. He doesn't have time to wait for the EPA to be deliberative and hear from stakeholders.
Also, the rule probably wouldn't pass in the Senate, if it came to a vote. It's a show announcement for a show vote for a campaign that's just getting underway. Ain't politics grand?