Republicans Vow to Fight E.P.A. and Approve Keystone Pipeline

Senator Mitch McConnell, the next majority leader, has already vowed to fight the rules, which could curb planet-warming carbon pollution but ultimately shut down coal-fired power plants in his native Kentucky. Mr. McConnell and other Republicans are, in the meantime, stepping up their demands that the president approve construction of the Keystone XL pipeline to carry petroleum from Canadian oil sands to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

At this point, Republicans do not have the votes to repeal the E.P.A. regulations, which will have far more impact on curbing carbon emissions than stopping the pipeline, but they say they will use their new powers to delay, defund and otherwise undermine them. Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, a prominent skeptic of climate change and the presumed new chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, is expected to open investigations into the E.P.A., call for cuts in its funding and delay the regulations as long as possible.

The Republicans’ new majority in the Senate also increases their leverage in pushing Mr. Obama to approve the pipeline, although it is still unclear if he will do so.

The White House vowed to fight back. “We know that there will be attempts to impede or scale back our actions,” John D. Podesta, the senior White House counselor who is leading Mr. Obama’s climate agenda, said in a statement on Monday. But he added, “We’re confident we can prevail.”

For Mr. McConnell, fierce opposition to the E.P.A. regulations is more than just a political priority. Kentucky is one of the country’s top coal producers, and coal generates over 90 percent of the state’s electricity. His re-election campaign was driven by a promise to protect Kentucky from what Republicans called Mr. Obama’s “war on coal.”

“I have heard from Kentuckians across the commonwealth about the pain being inflicted on them by E.P.A.’s unilateral actions,” Mr. McConnell said in a statement. “I fully intend to do everything I can do to fight these onerous E.P.A. regulations.”

Mr. Inhofe has gained headlines throughout his career for asserting that the science of human-caused climate change has been falsified. He is the author of “The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.” But while Republicans may be able to muster enough of a majority to pass bills that would block or delay the climate rules, it is a near certainty that Mr. Obama would veto such legislation. And Mr. McConnell could not gather the two-thirds majority in the Senate necessary to override a presidential veto.

Still, both Mr. McConnell and Mr. Inhofe are seasoned veterans of congressional procedure, willing and able to deploy a range of tactics designed to slow or hamstring the rules.

Mr. McConnell signaled last week that he, too, wanted to cut the E.P.A.’s budget to keep it from enforcing environmental regulations. Republicans might also include provisions that would repeal the E.P.A. regulations in crucial spending bills — a tactic that could force a standoff between Mr. Obama and Mr. McConnell over funding the government.

Mr. Inhofe was also expected to use his environmental committee chairmanship to hold hearings grilling Gina McCarthy, the E.P.A. administrator. As chairman of the committee during the Bush administration, Mr. Inhofe did not hesitate to investigate the environmental policies of his own party. “He was willing to do aggressive oversight during the Bush administration,” said Andrew Wheeler, a former chief of staff for Mr. Inhofe. “This time, it’s going to be very aggressive.”

But some environmentalists said Mr. Inhofe’s assault could backfire politically. “If the Republican Party doubles down on this brand of climate denial, it will go very badly for them,” said David Doniger, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group.

Republicans also planned to use their majority to enact legislation requiring the president to approve the Keystone pipeline. Republicans and the oil industry have issued angry calls for construction of the pipeline, which they see as a crucial conduit for oil. Environmentalists have campaigned against the project, which they see as a symbol of environmental degradation. Mr. Obama has delayed a decision on the project for years, as the State Department conducted numerous reviews of its impact on the nation’s environment, economy and national security.

The State Department is now awaiting a decision by a Nebraska court on the route of the pipeline before any decision is made.

If Republicans send a Keystone bill to Mr. Obama before the Nebraska verdict, the president is likely to veto it. But people familiar with the president’s thinking say that when it comes to climate change policy, Mr. Obama sees the E.P.A. regulations as the centerpiece of his environmental agenda and the Keystone pipeline as a sideline issue.

Asked about the project at a news conference last week, Mr. Obama said, “I’m going to let that process play out.” Then he added, “And I’m just going to gather up the facts.”

Republicans were likely to add a Keystone-approval provision to key spending bills, again daring Mr. Obama to veto such a measure. Mr. Obama appeared willing to veto such measures to protect the climate change rules, which could have an impact on the nation’s energy economy for the coming decades. But he may not be willing to do so for the pipeline, a single piece of infrastructure.

“I think there is probably a deal to be had on Keystone,” said David Goldwyn, who led the State Department’s Bureau of Energy Resources in Mr. Obama’s first term. “If Republicans attach Keystone to a budget bill, I don’t think he’s so principally opposed to it that he would veto it.”

GOP Senate’s first 100 days

GOP Senate’s first 100 days

By Alexander Bolton – 09/12/14 06:00 AM EDT

Republicans are putting together an agenda for the first 100 days of 2015 in case they win control of the Senate.

Authorizing the Keystone XL oil pipeline, approving “fast-track” trade authority, wiping out proposed environmental regulations and repealing the medical device tax top their list.

“Those would all be positive things. You could come up with a list of very positive things and all of us are thinking about those,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who is poised to become chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee under a GOP takeover.

Other Republicans echoed Corker.

“Those are four things that could happen that I believe would be great for the economy and enable us to move forward on a bipartisan basis,” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) said during a Thursday breakfast sponsored by The Christian Science Monitor.

GOP senators insist they are not “measuring the drapes” after six years in the minority.

Still, they’re preparing for what could be a brief, intense window of activity before 2016 presidential politics begin to dominate the landscape.

“We will have to be prepared if we are in a position to govern,” Corker said. “You got to think about those things you’d like to produce.”

To move their objectives, Senate Republicans must win in November and then work with a Democratic minority. Even in a best-case scenario, the party will be well short of a 60-plus majority able to block Democratic filibusters. But Republicans believe many of their priorities could be embraced by Democrats.

Legislation endorsing the Keystone pipeline included Democratic Sens. Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) among its co-sponsors.

And a bill to repeal the medical device tax has six Democratic cosponsors, including Sens. Al Franken (Minn.), Amy Klobuchar (Minn.), Bob Casey (Pa.), Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.), Kay Hagan (N.C.) and Donnelly.

“We should be able to do that in the first 30 days,” Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) said of the measure.

On regulatory reform, they note that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) halted action on the energy and water development appropriations bill earlier this year because he feared centrist Democrats were inclined to support an amendment curbing regulations on coal.

Centrist Democrat Joe Manchin (W.Va.) introduced legislation at the beginning of the year requiring that new greenhouse gas standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency be realistically achievable by coal-fired power plants.

Portman has introduced legislation that would require independent agencies to publish the assessed costs and benefits of proposed new rules deemed to be economically significant. Democratic Sen. Mark Warner (D-W.Va.) has co-sponsored the measure.

Trade is another possible area of bipartisanship — with the president.

President Obama called for bipartisan trade promotion authority in his State of the Union address in January, though Reid, who has a close relationship with organized labor, put the kibosh on the request by declaring his opposition to “fast-track.”

Sen. Roy Blunt (Mo.), a member of the Republican leadership, said Obama might back both Keystone and fast-track legislation approved by a GOP Senate.

“Both of them if they were on his desk would be hard things for the president not to agree on,” he said.

Republicans say they want to pass a budget in the first half of next year that would include special procedural instructions known as reconciliation to smooth the way for broader tax reform and entitlement reform.

Under reconciliation, the majority party can pass legislation through the Senate with only a simple-majority vote instead of the 60 votes usually required. Democrats used it in 2010 to pass changes to the Affordable Care Act.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), who is poised to become chairman of the Budget Committee if the Senate flips, said the majority party “has an obligation to lay out a financial plan for America.”

Portman, who served as director of the Office of Management and Budget under former President George W. Bush, said special procedural rules in the budget could “provide for something on the revenue side, which could lead to tax reform [and] something on the spending side, which could lead to some of the necessary changes to our incredibly important but unsustainable entitlement reform.”

Sessions said he hopes Democrats who pursued a grand bargain on tax and entitlement reform in 2011 could be persuaded to sit down at the negotiating table next year.

“We’re going to be working toward it,” he said of entitlement reform. “There’s no doubt about it that serious legislative reform of things like Medicare, Medicaid and other entitlement programs, food stamps, would need some bipartisan support.”

Senate Republicans want to dispel the image painted by Democrats over the past four years that they are obstructionists bent on grinding government to a halt.

They want to show they can get legislation passed after years of frustrating gridlock.

“One guy is blocking all the legislation — that’s the majority leader. If we get rid of him, then the spigot opens an we start passing legislation again,” said a Republican leadership aide, referring to Reid.

Democrats counter that Republicans are to blame for the stalemate. They say Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) intentionally blocked business with several hundred filibusters to enable GOP candidates to run against a dysfunctional institution.