Republican Senator Kelly Ayotte Backs President Obama’s Climate-Change Rule

Ayotte, who faces a tough reelection battle, broke with GOP leaders who want to kill the regulations on power plants.

Sen. Kelly Ayotte.
AP Photo/Jim Cole
Ben Geman
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Ben Geman
Oct. 26, 2015, 7:41 a.m.

New Hamp­shire Sen­at­or Kelly Ayotte is at odds with GOP lead­er­ship and the vast ma­jor­ity of her Re­pub­lic­an col­leagues over cli­mate-change policy head­ing in­to the 2016 elec­tions.

Ayotte, who is gird­ing for a dif­fi­cult reelec­tion fight, on Sunday be­came the first GOP sen­at­or to sup­port Pres­id­ent Obama’s sweep­ing reg­u­la­tion that man­dates car­bon-emis­sions cuts from the na­tion’s power plants.

Her an­nounce­ment ar­rives as Ma­jor­ity Lead­er Mitch Mc­Con­nell and many oth­er Re­pub­lic­ans are ramp­ing up their le­gis­lat­ive and mes­saging battle against the EPA rules, which seek to cut na­tion­wide pol­lu­tion from power plants by 32 per­cent, re­l­at­ive to 2005 levels, by 2030.

One reas­on for Ayotte’s po­s­i­tion: beer brew­ing. Ayotte cited the sup­port of New Hamp­shire busi­nesses for the plan, in­clud­ing Smuttyn­ose Brew­ing Com­pany, but also the ap­par­el com­pany Tim­ber­land, and Worthen In­dus­tries, which sup­plies ad­hes­ives and coat­ings to a vari­ous in­dus­tries.

“It’s so im­port­ant that we pro­tect New Hamp­shire’s beau­ti­ful en­vir­on­ment for our eco­nomy and for our fu­ture. 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,” she said.

While Ayotte is the first GOP sen­at­or to flatly en­dorse the plan, Maine’s Susan Collins is­sued a lengthy state­ment in Au­gust call­ing the meas­ure “sig­ni­fic­ant” and said it was bet­ter than the draft ver­sion, but stopped short of out­right sup­port.

The En­vir­on­ment­al Pro­tec­tion Agency rule, a cent­ral pil­lar of Obama’s cli­mate-change agenda, lays out state-by-state tar­gets for cut­ting emis­sions, and New Hamp­shire is tasked with a 23.3 per­cent re­duc­tion.

The rule en­ables states to use a range of op­tions to meet the re­quire­ments, such as in­creased use of re­new­able en­ergy, im­prove­ments in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency, and emis­sions trad­ing with oth­er states.

En­vir­on­ment­al­ists call it an im­port­ant way to cut emis­sions from coal-fired power plants, the na­tion’s largest source of un­checked car­bon pol­lu­tion. But ma­jor busi­ness groups and Re­pub­lic­ans ar­gue that the plan will be eco­nom­ic­ally harm­ful.

Ayotte, who is in her first term, is fa­cing a chal­lenge from Demo­crat­ic Gov. Mag­gie Has­san, and early polling sug­gests a close race in the off­ing. New Hamp­shire will be an im­port­ant battle­ground as Demo­crats seek to re­gain con­trol of the Sen­ate in next year’s elec­tions.

Ayotte laid out her po­s­i­tion in a care­fully worded state­ment, which notes that New Hamp­shire is already “well on its way” to meet­ing its emis­sions-cut­ting tar­get. Ayotte vowed to “care­fully mon­it­or” the im­ple­ment­a­tion of the rule to en­sure it provides enough flex­ib­il­ity and does not drive up en­ergy costs in the state.

The an­nounce­ment from Ayotte’s of­fice points out that it’s not the first time she has broken with GOP lead­er­ship on en­vir­on­ment­al is­sues.

In 2011 and 2012, she was among a half-dozen Re­pub­lic­ans to vote against bills that would have blocked EPA rules to cut smog-form­ing and tox­ic pol­lu­tion from power plants.

But Demo­crats quickly at­tacked Ayotte after Sunday’s an­nounce­ment. The New Hamp­shire Demo­crat­ic Party is­sued a press re­lease call­ing Ayotte’s sup­port for the EPA rule “hol­low.” 

Demo­crats poin­ted to Ayotte’s vote in fa­vor of a failed 2011 amend­ment au­thored by Mc­Con­nell that would have blocked EPA reg­u­la­tion of green­house gases and sup­port for a 2015 Mc­Con­nell amend­ment that would pre­vent EPA from with­hold­ing high­way funds from states that do not take steps to im­ple­ment EPA’s power-plant rule.

“While I’m glad to see that Kelly Ayotte is heed­ing Mag­gie Has­san’s call for New Hamp­shire’s del­eg­a­tion to sup­port the Clean Power Plan, it’s im­possible to take Ayotte’s hol­low sup­port ser­i­ously con­sid­er­ing that she’s voted to un­der­mine the very ef­forts she now claims to sup­port,” said Ray Buckley, chair­man of the New Hamp­shire Demo­crat­ic Party.

This story has been up­dated. 

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