As President Obama’s controversial climate-change plan revs into full gear this week, Republicans are seeking to paint it as a vast executive power grab that will cost taxpayers billions of dollars — all to address a problem many in the GOP say doesn’t exist.
With the Environmental Protection Agency scheduled Friday to release the first in a series of regulations reining in carbon pollution from coal-fired power plants, House Republicans are already on the attack. Wednesday, Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky, a coal-state Republican and unabashed climate-science skeptic, chaired a House Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing called, he said, for the express purpose of examining “the scope of federal climate-change actions that have been tolling billions of dollars a year in spending and countless man-hours of work since the mid-1990s, reaching over $22 billion this year alone.” As soon as the agency puts out its draft rule, Whitfield plans to introduce a bill to block the regulation.
Together, the hearing and rule set the stage for a coming battle over climate change in the 2014 midterm elections. While Whitfield’s bill stands no chance of passage in the Democratically controlled Senate, Republican strategists hope that it will put House Democrats in a tough position: Democrats from coal-, rust-, and farm-belt states who vote against rolling back the rule will see that vote haunt them in campaign ads, said Jordan Davis, policy director for the National Republican Congressional Committee. At the same time, Organizing for Action, the advocacy group that grew out of President Obama’s 2012 campaign, is running online ads and holding demonstrations targeting Republican “climate deniers.”
Obama, who in his first term failed to push climate-change legislation through Congress, has in his second term directed every Cabinet agency to present plans to act on climate change within their existing executive authority. Republicans are now calling attention to that effort as a way to claim the president is abusing his executive power. Whitfield invited representatives of 13 agencies to testify at Wednesday’s hearing, including the departments of Defense, State, Interior, Health, Agriculture, and Transportation — and slammed the president for ultimately sending only EPA chief Gina McCarthy and Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to the hearing. “Eleven agencies requested to testify — twice, I might add — did not provide a witness or submit information about agency activity to the subcommittee. That does not send a positive message for increased public understanding of what this administration is doing on an economically consequential matter,” Whitfield said.
McCarthy and Moniz confronted the attacks head-on, reminding lawmakers that the science of climate change is clearly established, that their agencies have legal authority to tackle it, and that climate change is also wreaking havoc on the U.S. economy.
“The evidence is overwhelming, the science is clear, and the threat from climate change is real and urgent. This is my judgment, and it is the almost universal judgment of the scientific community,” said Moniz, who was previously head of the physics department at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “The threat of a warming planet to our communities, our infrastructure, and our way of life is also clear. Rising sea levels and increasingly severe droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and major storms are already costing our economy billions of dollars a year, and these impacts are only going to grow more severe. Common sense demands that we take action. This is the driving force behind the president’s climate-action plan.”
McCarthy, who was just confirmed to the EPA post in July, asserted that under the law — specifically, the 1970 Clean Air Act — her agency has the legal authority to regulate carbon pollution.
Republicans, particularly Whitfield and others from coal states, continued to push back at established climate science. Rep. David McKinley of West Virginia cited reports that the rate of climate change has slowed in recent years, and he called the climate rules “an abuse of the president’s executive authority.” Moniz retorted that despite the recently recorded slowdown in atmospheric global warming, the last 10 years are still the hottest decade in recorded history. “Changes in the rate of increase are expected,” he said. “This pattern of effects was predicted decades ago. This is not being made up”¦. The last several years have seen a slowdown of warming.”¦ It does not obviate the overwhelming conclusion that global warming is going on.”
A group of protesters from Greenpeace seemed to concur. Sitting quietly in the audience, the group, dressed discreetly in suits and ties, donned tinfoil tri-corner hats whenever a Republican questioned or denied the science of climate change.
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President Obama became a surprise topic of contention toward the end of the Democratic debate, as Hillary Clinton reminded viewers that Sanders had challenged the progressive bona fides of President Obama in 2011 and suggested that someone might challenge him from the left. “The kind of criticism that we’ve heard from Senator Sanders about our president I expect from Republicans, I do not expect from someone running for the Democratic nomination to succeed President Obama,” she said. “Madame Secretary, that is a low blow,” replied Sanders, before getting in another dig during his closing statement: “One of us ran against Barack Obama. I was not that candidate.”
It’s all about the 1% and Wall Street versus everyone else for Bernie Sanders—even when he’s talking about race relations. Like Hillary Clinton, he needs to appeal to African-American and Hispanic voters in coming states, but he insists on doing so through his lens of class warfare. When he got a question from the moderators about the plight of black America, he noted that during the great recession, African Americans “lost half their wealth,” and “instead of tax breaks for billionaires,” a Sanders presidency would deliver jobs for kids. On the very next question, he downplayed the role of race in inequality, saying, “It’s a racial issue, but it’s also a general economic issue.”
It’s been said in just about every news story since New Hampshire: the primaries are headed to states where Hillary Clinton will do well among minority voters. Leaving nothing to chance, she underscored that point in her opening statement in the Milwaukee debate tonight, saying more needs to be done to help “African Americans who face discrimination in the job market” and immigrant families. She also made an explicit reference to “equal pay for women’s work.” Those boxes she’s checking are no coincidence: if she wins women, blacks and Hispanics, she wins the nomination.
Under pressure from a judge, the State Department will release about 550 of Hillary Clinton’s emails—“roughly 14 percent of the 3,700 remaining Clinton emails—on Saturday, in the middle of the Presidents Day holiday weekend.” All of the emails were supposed to have been released last month. Related: State subpoenaed the Clinton Foundation last year, which brings the total number of current Clinton investigations to four, says the Daily Caller.