Senator Ayotte breaks with the GOP on opposition to the Clean Power Plan

In a rare defection from the closed rank of Republicans in Congress that are against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s CO2-reducing Clean Power Plan, Sen. Kelly Ayotte. R-N.H., on Oct. 25 announced she will support the plan.

The final rule, published Oct. 23, sets state-specific targets for reducing emissions, but allows states the flexibility to determine how they will meet specific goals. The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services says that as part of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, New Hampshire has already taken steps to reduce emissions and is on track to meet its goals under the plan, Ayotte noted. Several New Hampshire businesses have expressed support for the plan, including Smuttynose Brewing Co., Timberland and Worthen Industries.

“It’s so important that we protect New Hampshire’s beautiful environment for our economy and for our future,” said Ayotte. “After carefully reviewing this plan and talking with members of our business community, environmental groups, and other stakeholders, I have decided to support the Clean Power Plan to address climate change through clean energy solutions that will protect our environment. New Hampshire is already well on its way to meet the goals of the Clean Power Plan through positive steps it has already taken. I will carefully monitor implementation of the plan to make sure there is sufficient flexibility for New Hampshire to meet its goals and that the plan does not have an adverse impact on Granite State energy costs.”

Dating back to her service as New Hampshire’s Attorney General and now in the U.S. Senate, Ayotte said she has stood on principle to protect New Hampshire’s clean air and water. As Attorney General, she joined lawsuits to protect New Hampshire from pollution from Midwestern coal plants and to set strict federal controls for mercury. In the Senate, she has repeatedly crossed party lines to oppose efforts to roll back clean air rules. In 2011, she was one of six Republicans to vote against an effort to roll back the EPA’s Cross-State Air Pollution rule, which protects New Hampshire and other “downwind” states from pollution emitted from out-of-state power plants. In 2012, she was one of only five Republicans to vote against a measure that would have undermined EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards for power plants aimed at reducing emissions of toxic air pollutants such as mercury, arsenic, and metals.

The Sierra Club said in an Oct. 26 statement that Ayotte is the first Republican Senator to support this landmark policy to curb carbon pollution from power plants.

Melinda Pierce, Sierra Club Legislative Director, said: “Senator Ayotte’s decision to support the Clean Power Plan should inspire her fellow Republicans in the Senate to stop ignoring the climate crisis and proactively work with the Obama Administration to protect their constituents from the very real dangers of carbon pollution. The Clean Power Plan will help our country move toward a new era of clean, affordable energy that protects the health of our communities, grows our economy, and signals to the rest of the world that the U.S. is serious about combating the climate crisis ahead of the Paris Conference.”

The Clean Power Plan sets a goal of 32% greenhouse gas reductions from existing power plants by 2030, with an interim compliance deadline in 2022. EPA on Oct. 23 also published a final plan for new power plants, which gets less attention than the Clean Power Plan, that requires carbon capture and storage technology to be installed on any new coal plants.

Republican defections on the Clean Power Plan are rare, in part due to efforts on the political right to demonize the plan with the phrase “cap and trade rule,” which on the right is up there with terms like “Obamacare” and “Benghazi” as flashpoints for reflexive opposition. On the other hand, several coal-state Democrats, including Joe Manchin of West Virginia, have already voiced opposition to the plan. A number of lawsuits against the plan, including one from a coalition of 24 states, have already been filed in federal court.

A more typical response from the GOP side of the aisle came Oct. 23 from U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee.

“Federally mandated carbon controls, whether attempted through legislation or regulation, a losing strategy,” said Inhofe. “Congress and the American people have consistently rejected such attempts, and the president’s now final carbon regulations will meet the same fate. I commend Leader [Mitch] McConnell and Senator [Shelley Moore] Capito on their bipartisan Congressional Review Act Resolutions of Disapproval that will protect hardworking Americans from the president’s unauthorized regulatory overreach and economically disastrous effects. I look forward to the formal filing next week and will work to ensure the resolutions make their way from the Environment and Public Works Committee to the floor as fast as possible. These CRAs are intended to make it very clear to the international community that the majority of Congress does not support the president’s climate agenda. The majority of Congress does not support any effort to fund his climate agenda, and any associated promises made by this administration, whether through political or legal means, will be short-lived.”

Inhofe noted that he is an original cosponsor to McConnell’s, R-Ky., Congressional Review Act (CRA) Resolution of Disapproval that will rescind the carbon emissions standard for new power plants, and an original cosponsor to Capito’s, R-W.Va., resolution that will rescind the carbon emissions standard for existing power plants. The Senate EPW Committee alongside Capito’s Clean Air and Nuclear Safety Subcommittee held six hearings this year examining the carbon regulations and heard from a diverse group of experts on the numerous legal, procedural and technical criticisms. These rules will cost over $192 billion, increase the price of electricity, reduce grid reliability, and have no considerable impact on the environment, said Inhofe.

About Barry Cassell 20414 Articles
Barry Cassell is Chief Analyst for GenerationHub covering coal and emission controls issues, projects and policy. He has covered the coal and power generation industry for more than 24 years, beginning in November 2011 at GenerationHub and prior to that as editor of SNL Energy’s Coal Report. He was formerly with Coal Outlook for 15 years as the publication’s editor and contributing writer, and prior to that he was editor of Coal & Synfuels Technology and associate editor of The Energy Report. He has a bachelor’s degree from Central Michigan University.