Senate Democrats prep Clean Power Plan vote

Source: By Nick Sobczyk, E&E News reporter • Posted: Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Senate Democrats plan to force a vote this week on the Trump administration’s Clean Power Plan replacement, a potential messaging spectacle that’s already drawing scorn from Republicans.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said late last week he plans to call up a vote to repeal the replacement power plant greenhouse gas regulation, known as the Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) rule, under the little-used Congressional Review Act.

The law gives Congress 60 legislative days to repeal administrative actions with a simple majority vote. In the Senate, a CRA resolution of disapproval can be brought to the floor with the support of 30 senators, meaning Democrats can force a roll call on the ACE rule without direct approval from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

It’s political move meant to call attention to McConnell’s lack of legislative action and to force vulnerable Republicans, such as Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado, to take votes that could eventually be used against them in swing states.

For Democrats, it’s also a statement to the environmental community, which overwhelmingly opposes the ACE rule. The new regulation focuses on technological improvements to reduce emissions at individual power plants, as opposed to the statewide greenhouse gas emission caps from the Clean Power Plan.

EPA’s own analysis suggests the ACE rule would barely reduce power-sector emissions compared to a business-as-usual scenario, a prospect environmentalists disdain, given science from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that says the world needs to get to net-zero emissions by midcentury to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

“The EPA has a congressionally mandated duty to protect the human health and the environment,” Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) said in a statement last week. “The EPA has abdicated its responsibility in promulgating this deeply flawed rule and the Senate will abdicate its responsibility if it fails to repeal the ACE rule.”

Focus on Collins

The CRA resolution of disapproval on the ACE rule, introduced by Cardin last month, is unlikely to pass with only 47 Democratic votes in the Senate.

One vote to watch, however, will be Collins, who is up for re-election next year and who opposed both of President Trump’s EPA administrator nominees — Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler — in part due to their proposals to replace the Clean Power Plan.

She also voted with Democrats when the GOP Senate attempted to repeal the Clean Power Plan using the Congressional Review Act during the Obama administration. A spokeswoman for Collins did not return a request for comment.

On the other hand, Sen. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), a member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, quickly put out a statement last week denouncing the vote.

“The ACE rule is a win for my state and our country,” Cramer said. “It respects the law and restores the proper balance between states and the federal government; but if given the opportunity, Senate Democrats would rather we return to the higher electricity bills, reduced grid reliability, and fewer well-paying jobs the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan would have caused.”

Mandy Gunasekara, a former EPA official who now runs the pro-Trump advocacy group Energy 45 Fund, similarly predicted that the move would backfire on Democrats. The vote, she said in an email, “shows Democrats are trying to get away from the AOC Green New Deal.”

“The ACE rule encapsulates President Trumps approach to meaningfully addressing environmental issues without sacrificing jobs or economic growth,” she said.

“Sens. Collins and Gardner will have an opportunity to talk about this balanced approach to environmental policies, which is especially important given the role resource development and energy play in their states.”

‘Useful’

Action on the ACE rule does not appear imminent on the House side, where the Green New Deal resolution, first introduced by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), has accumulated nearly 100 co-sponsors.

There isn’t a companion resolution of disapproval on the House side, and the CRA, generally, is not a wildly popular law among Democrats.

A piece of the Republican Contract With America under former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), the CRA has been successfully used only a handful of times.

Most notably, the GOP and President Trump used it to repeal 14 Obama administration rules, including a Bureau of Land Management resource planning rule and a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation related to extraction companies, in 2017 (E&E Daily, May 12, 2017).

Democrats on both sides of Capitol Hill introduced legislation in the 115th Congress to scrap the CRA altogether.

Senate Democrats said the vote this week — and others they plan to force on health insurance and tax regulations — will only serve to highlight the chamber’s lack of progress on policy from health care to climate change. Schumer said in the weekly Democratic address Friday that the votes would “jolt the Senate into action.”

It’s the same “legislative graveyard” messaging frame they used when McConnell forced his own vote on the Green New Deal earlier this year. Democrats voted “present” on the progressive policy framework nearly unanimously, while all Republicans opposed it (E&E Daily, March 27).

Bill Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the ACE vote “a juicy appetizer for the inevitable reality check upon Trump and McConnell’s obstruction and deceit on climate change policy.”

“Any vote that shows the Republican Party has absolutely no real climate plan is useful,” Snape said in an email.

Hearings

Lawmakers on both sides of Capitol Hill will get back to the climate hearing grind this week with a busy day on Thursday.

The House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis will lead it off Thursday morning with a hearing on building resilience and energy efficiency.

It will be a partial repeat of a hearing that the Energy and Commerce Committee already held before the October recess, as the two panels race to develop their own climate plans (E&E Daily, Sept. 23).

Also Thursday morning, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will take a look at reducing emissions in a hearing titled “The Case for Climate Optimism: Realistic Pathways to Achieving Net-Zero Emissions.”

And at the same time, the Senate Environment and Public Works Subcommittee on Clean Air and Nuclear Safety will hold its own hearing on reducing emissions through innovation, a meeting that was rescheduled from before the October recess.

Schedule: The select committee hearing is Thursday, Oct. 17, at 9 a.m. in 2020 Rayburn.