Republican Governors Signal Their Intent to Thwart Obama’s Climate Rules

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT. New York Times • Posted: Monday, July 6, 2015

Gov. Mary Fallin of Oklahoma is among five Republican governors who have indicated they may defy new federal regulations. Credit Gabriella Demczuk/The New York Times 

WASHINGTON — As President Obama prepares to complete sweeping regulations aimed at tackling climate change, at least five Republican governors, including two presidential hopefuls, say they may refuse to carry out the rules in their states.

The resistance threatens to ignite a fierce clash between federal and state authorities, miring the climate rules in red tape for years. The fight could also undermine Mr. Obama’s efforts to urge other nations to enact similar plans this year as part of a major United Nations climate change accord.

Republican strategists say that rejection of Mr. Obama’s climate policy at the state level could emerge as a conservative litmus test in the 2016 election. Two of the governors who have said that they might defy the regulations — Scott Walker of Wisconsin and Bobby Jindal of Louisiana — are among at least four Republican governors who are expected to vie for the presidential nomination.

Other governors who have issued threats over the rules include Greg Abbott of Texas, Mike Pence of Indiana and Mary Fallin of Oklahoma.

The governors’ actions have come after the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, opened a campaign earlier this year urging all governors to refuse to carry out the climate change rules.

Mr. McConnell sent a letter to every governor in March, and he has continued his push in meetings and phone calls. In addition, his staff has been working closely with regulators and environmental officials in many state governments, helping them shape legal strategies to block the rules.

“As governors begin to seriously look at what these plans will look like, we expect more and more governors will follow Senator McConnell’s lead,” said Robert Steurer, a spokesman for Mr. McConnell.

The fate of Mr. Obama’s climate change agenda, which he hopes will be a cornerstone of a major environmental legacy, depends heavily on the compliance of state governments.

Last year, the Environmental Protection Agency unveiled a draft regulation that stands at the heart of the president’s efforts to fight global warming. The proposed rule assigns each state a level by which it must reduce its planet-warming carbon emissions from electric power plants. Under the rule, which the administration expects to release in its final form in August, every state will have one year to draft a customized plan detailing how it will comply.

States, for example, could submit plans to shut down heavily polluting coal plants, replacing them with natural gas plants and wind, solar and nuclear power generators, and to improve energy efficiency in buildings. They could also enact taxes on carbon pollution, or join regional “cap and trade” programs, which require companies to pay for government-issued pollution permits.

The White House envisions the plan as a trigger that will prompt a transformation of the American electricity system, shifting it from dependence on fossil fuels to a reliance on renewable and low-carbon energy sources.

But some governors call the proposal a federal intrusion on their authority.

“The E.P.A.’s latest attempt at imposing burdensome regulations represents an unprecedented meddling with Texas in order to push the Obama administration’s liberal climate change agenda,” said Mr. Abbott, the Texas governor, who has met with Mr. McConnell about his effort to ensure that states do not submit climate change plans, and has announced that he will support the push.

Michael Reed, a spokesman for Mr. Jindal, said in an email: “The president’s Clean Power Plan undermines the role of states in the federal Clean Air Act in an effort to realize a radical, liberal agenda that will lead to increased energy costs. While we believe the proposed rule should be immediately withdrawn, we are considering all options to mitigate the damage if it becomes final, including not submitting a plan.”

In a letter to Mr. Obama, Governor Walker wrote that he feared the “staggering costs it would inflict on Wisconsin’s homes and businesses,” and added that absent major changes to the plan, “it is difficult to envision how Wisconsin can responsibly construct a state plan.”

Given the volatile politics, the Obama administration is preparing for some states to reject the proposal. The E.P.A. is drafting a model state-level plan to have at the ready if states refuse to submit their own plans.

Administration officials say it is in states’ interest to design their own plans, which would be customized to meet the needs of their local and regional economies.

“E.P.A. has an obligation under the Clean Air Act to develop a model federal plan, something that many states have asked E.P.A. to do so it can provide an example for states developing their own plans,” said Thomas Reynolds, a spokesman for the agency. “E.P.A.’s strong preference is to approve state plans, but we know that setting out a federal plan is an important step to ensure that our Clean Air Act requirements are fulfilled.”

Environmental policy experts say that the federal government could ultimately force a policy created in Washington on the economies of each state. But that could mean the process would be extended for years.

“If the federal government has to enforce this program if the state is unwilling or unable to comply, it will drag out the process, exacerbate the challenges, and make implementation that much more difficult,” said William Becker, the executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.

But for presidential candidates promoting their conservative credentials, highlighting the difficulties of federal regulation may be precisely the point.

Michael McKenna, a Republican energy lobbyist and political strategist, has advised governors to reject the plan.

“When this rule is final, people are going to have to say whether they’re in favor of it or against it, and political activists, voters in Republican primaries, are going to look at it,” he said. “It’s going to be on the test.”