EPA carbon limit proposal is campaign conundrum for some Democrats

The Department of Water and Power (DWP) San Fernando Valley Generating Station in Sun Valley, Calif. is seen in this Dec. 11, 2008 file photo. David McNew/Getty Images

Republicans on Capitol Hill on Monday balked at the Environmental Protection Agency's proposal to limit carbon emissions from existing coal plants -- House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, called it "nuts."

Democrats, however, have had more mixed reactions. And the newly-proposed regulations have given the Republican Party a new opportunity to pressure vulnerable Democrats up for re-election -- particularly those from coal-dependent states -- to distance themselves from the Obama administration.

"What's the point of them being there if their mere presence enables President Obama to implement his radical agenda by fiat?" the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC)'s Bill Murphy wrote, calling out incumbent Sens. Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Begich of Alaska, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Mark Udall of Colorado, and Mark Warner of Virginia, along with some Democratic Senate candidates.

In spite of his competitive Senate race, Udall on Monday endorsed the EPA proposal, which would require the existing plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

"Climate change is threatening Colorado's special way of life. Coloradans have seen firsthand the harmful effects of climate change, including severe drought, record wildfires and reduced snowpack," Udall said in a statement. "The EPA's draft rule is a good start, and I will fight to ensure it complements the work we have already done in Colorado and provides states the flexibility they need to make it successful."

As Udall alluded to, Colorado voters in 2004 approved a law requiring larger utilities to get 30 percent of their energy from renewable sources by 2020.

Still, the GOP has noted that Colorado and other states with key Senate races (such as Arkansas, Kentucky and Iowa) use coal for more than half of their power. Meanwhile, recent CBS News polling shows that many Americans don't think global warming is having a serious impact now.

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  • Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., called the proposed administrative rule change "a dagger in the heart of the American middle class," but his Democratic opponent objects to it as well.

    "President Obama's new EPA rule is more proof that Washington isn't working for Kentucky," Democratic Senate candidate Alison Lundergan Grimes said in a statement. "Coal keeps the lights on in the Commonwealth, providing a way for thousands of Kentuckians to put food on their tables. When I'm in the U.S. Senate, I will fiercely oppose the President's attack on Kentucky's coal industry because protecting our jobs will be my number one priority."

    Begich said in a statement that he has "long been skeptical of this Administration and their understanding of Alaska's unique needs when it comes to energy policy and this will be no different."

    Begich noted that rural Alaska could largely be exempt from the new rules and stressed that the EPA is granting states a large degree in flexibility to meet the new requirements. He said he will work closely with the EPA and the state "to ensure that any final rule is flexible and protects Alaska businesses and families."

    In Louisiana, the natural gas industry is far more significant than coal. However, Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., has campaigned heavily on the notion that she's used her power as chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to push back against the Obama administration's energy regulations. In a statement Monday, she said the administration shouldn't act unilaterally to limit carbon emissions.

    "Congress should set the terms, goals and timeframe," she said. "Greater use of natural gas and stronger efficiency measures adopted by the industry have already helped us reduce carbon emissions to their lowest levels in 20 years, and this should continue. I will work with leaders of both parties to build on the progress we have already made."

    Landrieu pointed out that she has for years opposed a cap-and-trade system to regulate carbon emissions and in 2010 provided the "key vote" in the Senate blocking a cap-and-trade bill.

    Monday's announcement received cool feedback from some red-state Democrats who aren't up for re-election this year, such as Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.V.

    "There is no doubt that seven billion people have had an impact on our world's climate; however, the proposed EPA rule does little to address the global problem with global solutions," Manchin said.

    Other Democrats, meanwhile, heartily endorsed the proposal.

    "These actions by the Administration send a resounding message to the world that the United States is serious about dealing with climate change," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement. "The Clean Air Act is an appropriate, bipartisan approach to protect people from pollution, and today's standards build on a foundation of decades of bipartisan laws, including the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed by President Bush."

    Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the proposal "a major step forward."

    "Acting now will protect public health, slow global warming, and create new clean energy jobs," he said.

    At least one Republican now removed from politics -- former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger -- also endorsed the EPA's move.

    "You only need to look at the decades of scientific research and at the epic droughts and superstorms to know that we can't wait any longer to take action on climate change," he said. "I applaud President Obama for using every tool at his disposal and not waiting for Congress or a new international treaty."

    He pointed out that California and nine eastern states have used similar policies, including a cap-and-trade system, that can serve as a model for the rest of the nation.

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