Read all about it: Editorial opinion on EPA rule varies in states with key Senate races

Source: Josh Kurtz, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, June 4, 2014

In West Virginia, the opinion of political leaders is nearly unanimous: U.S. EPA’s new emissions rule for power plants is a disaster for the state’s economy and toxic for Democrats, even those who oppose it, because they will be tarnished by President Obama’s push to address climate change — which critics have branded “the war on coal.”

But at the state’s biggest and most important newspaper, editorial writers aren’t so quick to criticize.”As we’ve said before, instead of raging against pollution controls — or trying to score political points — West Virginia leaders should launch intelligent planning for the inevitable future when coal is gone,” an editorial in yesterday’s Charleston Gazette said.

West Virginia isn’t the only place where this divide is happening. A quick survey of the leading newspapers in states hosting this year’s most critical Senate races shows a mixture of opinion about Obama’s climate plan — even in states where most Democrats are hurrying to get as far away from the president as possible.

In West Virginia, the Democratic nominee for Senate, Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, was quick to criticize the president and yesterday released a comprehensive energy plan for the state and nation that featured coal prominently (see related story). But she, like endangered Rep. Nick Rahall (D), remains vulnerable to attacks from Republicans and the outside groups bankrolling their campaigns. The Gazette opinion writers called those forces out in their editorial yesterday.

“Predictably, West Virginia conservatives went ballistic over the Obama administration’s modest, reasonable attempt to reduce air pollution and curtail global warming caused by coal-burning power plants,” the editorial said.

“The state Republican headquarters issued a statement titled ‘When Obama Attacks.’ It said West Virginia Democrats are lying and ‘they will lie again about how they helped Obama destroy coal and power plant jobs.’ It added: ‘Incumbent Democrats here were either fooled by Obama, or worse, are traitors who joined him on a course to destroy what remains of West Virginia’s economy.'”

The editorial continued: “Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey declared that ‘President Obama has a callous disregard for the poverty plaguing West Virginia and our country.’ He vowed to wage court battles against the proposed federal rules that ‘impose nationwide limitations on carbon dioxide emitted from existing coal-fired plants, requiring a staggering 30 percent reduction from these plants in a mere 15 years.’

“A West Virginia front group for the oil billionaire Koch brothers likewise attacked, attempting to blame the new pollution controls on Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., whom the Kochs are attempting to defeat through intensive political spending.”

In Kentucky, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R) is fending off a challenge from Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes (D), both candidates immediately blasted EPA’s new power plant rule. But an editorial yesterday in Louisville’s The Courier-Journal criticized them both, suggesting sarcastically that their rhetoric could be harnessed for electric power.

“For Mr. McConnell, it’s just another tiresome rant against the administration to mask his utter lack of effort to focus on the future of Kentucky — particularly impoverished Eastern Kentucky, for too long dependent on dwindling coal jobs,” the newspaper wrote. “What has he done to diversify the economy or provide more opportunities to the region?

“For Ms. Grimes, it’s a failure to lead on an issue where she could distinguish herself from her opponent and show that she accepts the challenge of diversifying the economy and pursuing new, cleaner sources of energy for Kentucky. Why is she afraid to own a Democratic initiative?

“Besides, neither appears to have the hearts and minds of voters on this one.

“A new Washington Post-ABC News poll … shows that a significant majority of Americans from both parties support limits on greenhouse gases from power plants, even if it means higher utility bills. That includes people in coal-producing states including Kentucky, which gets almost all of its electricity from coal.

“But it’s easier to spout ‘war on coal’ rhetoric.

“It may not be true. It may make no sense.

“But it makes for a lot of hot air.

“If only we could capture and use it.”

An editorial in yesterday’s Denver Post also took a favorable view of the new climate rule, calling it “ambitious but doable.” Colorado Sen. Mark Udall (D), a top target of Republicans in the fall, was one of the few endangered Democratic senators who reacted positively this week to the Obama climate plan (E&ENews PM, June 2).

But Udall has been considerably more circumspect when it comes to efforts to ban or limit hydraulic fracturing in Colorado — a fact his Republican challenger, Rep. Cory Gardner, hopes to exploit this fall (E&E Daily, May 23).

In its editorial yesterday, the Post argued that Colorado will need to take advantage of its abundance of natural gas to meet the standards set in EPA’s new power plant rule.

“Since natural gas burns cleaner than coal, it could be the single biggest beneficiary of the president’s new carbon policy,” the newspaper wrote. “And yet across the country, as well as in Colorado, fractivists are pushing to outlaw or severely limit the use of the hydraulic fracturing technology that has helped to boost supplies and limit price spikes. After the unveiling of the administration’s new carbon policy, it’s more important than ever that they not be allowed to succeed.”

In Georgia, where a competitive Senate race is shaping up between nonprofit executive Michelle Nunn (D) and the winner of an upcoming Republican runoff, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution no longer runs unsigned editorials, opting instead for opinion columns by editorial writers — usually one from the left and one from the right. In yesterday’s edition, liberal columnist Jay Bookman called the climate regulations a necessity to save the planet — but also pointed out that power companies are welcoming the regulatory certainty that comes with the EPA rule.

“In keeping with existing law, the approach announced this week by the Obama administration puts a great deal of responsibility into the hands of state governments, which will have to decide how best to achieve the mandated emission reductions,” Bookman wrote. “Some of those states, including Georgia, are controlled by politicians who treat climate change not as a serious environmental challenge but as a test of their political loyalty that they dare not fail.

“Most of those politicians will fight this approach. Some states may essentially refuse to participate, abdicating their authority to draft their own compliance plans and forcing the federal government to carry out the law instead. Given their efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act, I have a hard time seeing Gov. Nathan Deal, Attorney General Sam Olens, the Georgia Legislature and the state Public Service Commission taking any other course, at least initially.

“But in time that opposition will fade, in part because Georgia Power and other energy providers will want the security and assurance of a state plan that they can directly influence, and that meets federal mandates. The Georgia business community will also demand the assurance of energy sources that comply with U.S. law. Fighting such changes may be politically and emotionally rewarding, at least in the short term, but it is a losing long-term strategy, for the state as well as for the planet.”

‘Imperial approach’

Not every editorial and column in states with hard-fought Senate elections was so favorable, however.

In Michigan, where the Senate race is a close battle between Rep. Gary Peters (D) and former Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land (R), who has questioned climate science, an editorial in The Detroit News yesterday predicted that the new climate rules would wreak economic havoc.

“While everyone wants cleaner air, the fundamental problem with the administration’s agenda is that it has no credible plan for replacing the lost power,” the newspaper wrote. It added:

“President Barack Obama, in presenting his strident new plan to reduce carbon emissions, is touting the health benefits of cleaner air. And there’s little doubt shutting down one-third of the nation’s coal plants will make America’s air cleaner and some people healthier.

“But it will also risk making them hungrier, less prosperous and more likely to be unemployed as the nation’s economy slows and jobs disappear. The tough, new restrictions on smokestack emissions are the latest in a series of battles in the administration’s war on coal.”

In Louisiana, where the re-election of Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Mary Landrieu (D) is in jeopardy, in part because of her party label, the New Orleans Times-Picayune did not run an editorial yesterday on the power plant rule. But columnist James Varney accused Obama of behaving like a monarch.

“The glorious moment in American history when Obama was elected president is ancient history,” Varney wrote. “All that calming oceans and healing planet stuff is in the past, and now instead of blind obedience he too often finds his subjects and the nobility standing athwart his noble intent.

“His imperial approach to governing manifested itself in a big way this week when Obama unveiled his unilateral plan to save the earth from global warming. Or at least cripple a piece of the American energy sector because, well, global warming. There was no clamor or desire for this on the part of many American people — global warming consistently ranks nowhere on their list of priorities. But this unwanted and expensive gesture is of a piece with Obama’s perception of government.

“For the weird truth is, at this moment, the United States has a president who doesn’t care what Americans think. He’s not interested in doing anything they want him to do. The desires and the priorities of the little people are of no moment to the great man.”

Editorial writers at leading newspapers where other top-tier Senate races are on tap this year — the Anchorage Daily News, the Arkansas Democrat-GazetteThe Charlotte ObserverThe Des Moines Register, and the New Hampshire Union-Leader — did not weigh in yesterday on the new EPA power plant rule. But the candidates themselves did.