McConnell urges states to just ignore federal rules they don't like

The Senate Majority Leader's new plan for defeating the EPA may be his worst yet

Published March 5, 2015 6:19PM (EST)

(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell really doesn't want to see the EPA's new power plant legislation implemented. In fact, McConnell's promised to "do everything I can to try to stop" the EPA, which is nonetheless gearing up to finalize the rules.

His next move? Urging states to just ignore them.

In an op-ed published this week in the Lexington Herald-Leader, McConnell advises states not to submit a plan for complying with the regulations, which aim to cut emissions from new coal-fired power plants 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. His justification, in a nutshell: "The regulation is unfair" and "it's probably illegal."

"Don't be complicit in the administration's attack on the middle class," McConnell writes. "Think twice before submitting a state plan -- which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits -- when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won't be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism."

Ideology aside, McConnell's advice is godawful. This is, after all, federal legislation that we're talking about -- if states refuse to implement it themselves, it will be imposed upon them. They'll just robbing themselves of the opportunity to come up with a plan that works best for them.

And arguing, as McConnell does, that the rules are illegal won't get them very far either, as the New Republic's Rebecca Leber deftly explains:

McConnell's op-ed quoted Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe, who finds the EPA has gone "far beyond its lawful authority." Tribe does think the EPA's approach to the regulations is unconstitutional, and argues they will likely be overturned in court. Even so, Tribe told me McConnell’s advice for states to wait until courts litigate the issue is “not really helpful.”

"The problem for Kentucky and many other states -- and for the electric power businesses operating in those states -- is that they can’t count on my being right,” Tribe said. He said "the uncertain legal environment puts many states (and employers doing business and providing jobs in those states) in an impossible position: either gamble that the rule of law will prevail [...] or give in now and act cynically to minimize your potential losses."

McConnell insists that if states hold back on submitting their plans, "a better outcome may yet be possible." There's just not much to indicate he'll be able to keep that promise.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Coal-fired Power Plants Epa Power Plant Rule Sen. Mitch Mcconnell