WASHINGTON — Everywhere, Republicans are harrumphing about the Environmental Protection Agency’s new emissions rules, which require power plants to reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions by 30 percent from their 2005 levels. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Ky., called the rules a “dagger in the heart of the American middle class, and to representative democracy itself,” while Missouri Sen. Roy Blunt promised to “fight President Obama every step of the way to stop this unprecedented power grab.” Of course, as a rule issued under established powers for the EPA, this is the opposite of a “power grab.”
If Republicans are outraged by the announcement, they only have themselves to blame. It is true that in recent months, the administration has been vocal — even strident — about the danger of climate change. In February, for example, Secretary of State John Kerry derided global warming deniers as members of the “Flat Earth Society” who are “burying their heads in the sand.” At the same time, the White House didn’t begin with a regulatory approach.
In 2009, President Barack Obama threw his support behind climate legislation in the House, and the following year, a group of Senate Democrats — including Kerry — began work with Republicans to craft a bipartisan climate bill. The process fell apart, a victim of bad management from the White House, election year politics, an embattled and fearful Sen. Lindsay Graham — the South Carolina senator at the center of the negotiations — and the growing tide of Republican anti-Obama sentiment, which would culminate that fall with a huge GOP victory in the House of Representatives.
It’s not that EPA action wasn’t possible, but that the administration wanted legislation and would make key concessions to get it. In the absence of a law, however, the White House was prepared to act alone. “If Republicans didn’t respond to the proposed deals,” wrote The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza, “the White House could push them to the table by making a threat through the Environmental Protection Agency, which had recently been granted power to regulate carbon, just as it regulates many other air pollutants.”