- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 7, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - A national environmental group has launched a $500,000 ad campaign against U.S. Sen. Rob Portman in Ohio, claiming a federal budget amendment he introduced could undercut the enforceability of the federal Clean Air Act.

In spots airing across the state, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Moms Clean Air Force paint the Republican’s proposal as a “polluter protection plan.” It would have allowed states to opt out of new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards for cutting carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s first-ever regulations aimed at reducing power plant emissions of mercury and other hazardous air pollutants are currently before the U.S. Supreme Court in a challenge by industry groups and 21 Republican-led states.

NRDC officials said Tuesday they’ve singled out Portman because his proposal “strikes at the heart” of a 40-year-old environmental law that protects public health. The ad focuses on the group’s belief that the amendment would impact the health of Ohio children and families, especially those with breathing complications.

His campaign spokesman Corry Bliss said Portman has a strong pro-environmental record that’s even been praised by NRDC. He said the ads are aimed at promoting former Democratic Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland’s 2016 bid against Portman after Strickland promoted policies supported by NRDC as president of the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

Strickland and Cincinnati councilman P.G. Sittenfeld are vying for the Democratic nomination to face Portman next year in a race expected to draw national attention. A Quinnipiac University poll released Monday showed Strickland - who lost a tight re-election bid to GOP Gov. John Kasich in 2010 - with a significant early lead.

“The truth is that Rob Portman has worked across the aisle fighting for a balanced approach to preserve jobs for Ohio workers while protecting the environment,” Bliss said.

Strickland’s role promoting the center’s pro-environmental policies was challenged by some in the coal industry as contradicting his past coal support.

Strickland campaign spokesman Dennis Willard said the Appalachian native supports both the EPA rule and the coal industry and its workers.

“But he believes it is critically important to help these transitioning communities,” Willard said. “If Ohio had maintained the renewable and energy efficiencies that Ted Strickland passed as governor, it would be far easier to comply with the EPA standards.”

Those renewable energy targets have been paused for review by Ohio’s GOP-dominated Legislature.

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