- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on Wednesday blocked the first legislative attempt by Republicans to derail President Obama’s proposed environmental rules that threaten to put coal-fired power plants out of business.

Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat, only had to voice an objection to defeat the bill by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. The move nevertheless marked the first shot in a likely protracted battle in Congress and on the campaign trails this year over what critics call Mr. Obama’s “war on coal.”

Mr. McConnell requested unanimous consent on the Senate floor of his Coal Country Protection Act two days after the Environmental Protection Agency announced the proposed rule to cut carbon dioxide emissions from power plants by 30 percent over 15 years.

“President Obama’s new energy regulations would ship middle-class jobs overseas, splinter our manufacturing base and boost energy costs for struggling families,” Mr. McConnell said.

His bill had virtually no chance of passing by unanimous consent in the Democrat-run chamber.

“The rule will not become effective for a long time,” Mr. Reid said. “I know the importance of this issue, and I’ll be as cooperative as I feel is appropriate with the Republican leader. But at this time, I object.”

SEE ALSO: New EPA carbon limits further natural gas boom at expense of coal

Environmentalists hailed the proposed regulatory scheme to reduce greenhouse gases, which are blamed for contributing to climate change. Business groups and the coal industry warned that the rules would cause job losses, power outages and massive increases in Americans’ electric bills.

In Kentucky, the nation’s third-largest producer of coal, the EPA proposal is a top campaign issue for Mr. McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes.

The rules also would be an obstacle for Senate Democrats in several states — including North Carolina, Louisiana and Arkansas — that could decide whether their party retains majority control of the chamber after this year’s elections.

After Mr. McConnell’s bill failed, the Grimes campaign said the five-term incumbent has not done enough to help Kentucky’s coal industry.

“While it is heartening Mitch McConnell turns his eye to coal country every six years to get re-elected, the senior senator’s new bill does not go far enough and is inadequate,” said Grimes campaign manager Jonathan Hurst.

The McConnell campaign countered by citing the “full support” for the bill from the Kentucky Coal Association.

SEE ALSO: Kentucky’s Grimes takes swing at Obama’s new coal rules

The attack was part of a daylong exchange of barbs as the candidates jockeyed to be the fiercest opponent of Mr. Obama’s agenda to fight climate change.

Ms. Grimes, the Kentucky secretary of state, has labored to distance herself from Mr. Obama and his energy policies, which are unpopular in Kentucky, and to refute Mr. McConnell’s charge that she has supported the Democratic Party’s anti-coal agenda.

Her campaign began airing a radio ad Wednesday in which Ms. Grimes says: “I have a message for President Obama.

“Mr. President, Kentucky has lost one-third of our coal jobs in just the last three years. Now your EPA is targeting Kentucky coal with pie-in-the-sky regulations that are impossible to achieve,” she says. “It’s clear you have no idea how this affects Kentucky.”

The 60-second spot ends with Ms. Grimes saying, “I approved this message and, Mr. President, you’ll be hearing it a lot more when I’m in the Senate.”

The McConnell campaign responded by noting that Ms. Grimes supported Mr. Obama for president in 2008 after he proposed making environmental rules so tough that they would “bankrupt” anybody trying to build a coal-fired power plant.

“Her belated concern about the war on coal now that she’s a candidate, after helping to ensure it by backing Obama, is insulting and transparently political,” the McConnell campaign said in a statement.

The Grimes campaign fired back by accusing Mr. McConnell of letting the devastation in Kentucky coal communities happen “on his watch.” The campaign listed the decline of the coal industry in Kentucky since Mr. McConnell took office in 1985, including 18,000 lost mining jobs and 1,400 shuttered coal mines.

“After 30 years in Washington, Sen. McConnell cannot escape his real record of ineffectively fighting for coal,” the Grimes campaign said.

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

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