Think Progress
March 20, 2015

by Joe Romm

Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is taking extraordinary measures to block the most modest efforts aimed at preventing catastrophic climate change. He has begun an “aggressive campaign to block” EPA’s carbon pollution standards “in statehouses and courtrooms across the country, arenas far beyond Mr. McConnell’s official reach and authority,” as the New York Times reports.

Tragically, while his efforts can’t save the coal industry, which is “dead man walking,” as Deutsche Bank has explained, McConnell can certainly make it much harder for Americans to save ourselves from Dust-Bowlification and the loss of our coastal cities.

On Thursday, the coal-state senator Senator sent out an an unprecedented letter to every governor in the country urging them not to comply with federal law. But this campaign is aimed at a much bigger target than the relatively limited EPA rules — which are so weak that we’ll come close to meeting them simply because of low natural gas prices and state and federal efforts to expand energy efficiency and renewable energy.

McConnell is trying to “undercut Mr. Obama’s position internationally as he tries to negotiate a global climate change treaty to be signed in Paris in December,” the New York Times reports. “The idea is to create uncertainty in the minds of other world leaders as to whether the United States can follow through on its pledges to cut emissions.”

Remember that Christiana Figueres, the top U.N. climate official, has said the Paris talks will “not get us onto the 2°C pathway,” which scientists have said is the limit if we are to avoid dangerous impacts. Instead, the best outcome for Paris is to get as far as possible from the unimaginably catastrophic 6°C (11°F) path we’re currently on — and to give the next generation a plausible chance at staying well below the 4°C (7°F) path that would render large parts of the Earth unsuitable for farming and virtually uninhabitable, probably for centuries.

McConnell wants governors to ignore the law’s requirement for them to put forward a state implementation plan to meet the EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan standards. He claims that doing so “will provide time for the courts to rule on whether the EPA’s proposed rule is legal.” But EPA is legally obligated to issue rules regulating CO2 from existing power plants, since the Roberts Supreme Court 2007 ruling in Massachusetts v. EPA that carbon dioxide qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. And just last year, the Roberts Court affirmed 7 to 2 the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases from stationary sources, such as power plants.

If states don’t put forward a state implementation plan to meet the EPA’s extremely flexible standards, then the federal government is required by law to do so. The net result is the same — the state must meet the law — but McConnell’s strategy means the federal government tells the states exactly how to meet the targets, rather than the other way around.

Of course, McConnell’s strategy can delay things — especially with the help of the staggering $889 million the multi-billionaire pollutocrat Koch brothers are planning to spend in the 2016 election cycle at the state and national level. And after 25 years of dawdling on climate action, we have no more time to delay.

So an epic struggle for the fate of America and the world has begun. Unfortunately, the media seems to miss this crucial point as it embraces the pro-pollution framing of the anti-science Senator. The New York Times headline for its story is, “McConnell Urges States to Help Thwart Obama’s ‘War on Coal’.” Seriously.

Nothing McConnell is doing has any plausible chance of reversing the rapidly vanishing Kentucky coal workforce or saving the coal industry. A recent report reveals that “Developers Are Cancelling More Coal Plants Than They Build.” The biggest coal consumer in the world by far, China, actually cut its coal use 2.9 percent last year on its way to meetings its target of a peak in coal by 2020 (and likely much sooner). The only hope for the coal industry in a rational world that wants to avoid catastrophic warming is carbon capture and storage — but the industry has basically let that option wither on the vine for lack of support.

Back to the Times story. This is the same paper that reported in 2014 on how the faster-than-expected disintegration of the West Antarctic ice sheet we are now seeing could “potentially caus[e] enough sea-level rise that many of the world’s coastal cities would eventually have to be abandoned.” And the Times reported in February on the NASA drought study discussed above, noting “As bad as recent droughts in California, the Southwest and the Midwest have been, scientists say far worse ‘megadroughts’ are coming — and they’re bound to last for decades.”

So their headline is wrong. Obama isn’t waging a war on coal, he just doesn’t want to flood coastal cities or turn much of the interior of the nation into a vast wasteland that “makes the Dust Bowl look like a picnic,” in the words of one scientist!

It is McConnell who is waging a war — a war on humanity, a war on America’s future, a war on the world’s children and indeed the next 50 generations, since man-made climate changes are essentially irreversible on a time scale of centuries.

Scroll to Top