New EPA regulations are political gift for Republicans

WASHINGTON — Just when our economy is shrinking, President Obama wants to impose harsh environmental rules that will kill jobs, raise energy costs and impose new burdens on business.

One week after the government said the U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter, for the first time since 2011, Obama is calling for severe new coal emissions rules that many Democrats in Congress say will hurt their states’ economies.

They will result in widespread job losses, with estimates of up to half a million workers, and likely much more than that if the new rules are fully adopted. Those jobs would come, first and foremost, from coal-mining states, but also from many industries that are heavily dependent on coal for their energy needs.

Nearly 20 states obtain more than half their electric power from coal-fired plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The Chamber of Commerce says the Environmental Protection Agency’s emission rules would cost businesses more than $50 billion.

The EPA’s new rules have infuriated Democrats in major coal-producing states, many of whom are facing tough elections this year at a critical time when Republicans are close to winning the six seats needed to take control of the Senate.

A typical example of the anger the EPA rules have sparked came from West Virginia’s Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who’s running for an open Senate seat. She promised voters Monday that she would “stand up” to Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy “and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs.”

Similar criticism came from Kentucky’s Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who is in a tight race to unseat Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in another pivotal coal state. McConnell is attacking Grimes for accepting a $2,000 contribution from the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading backer of the EPA’s stricter rules.

West Virginia Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, one of the GOP’s chief targets this fall, says he will introduce legislation to block the EPA rules. And no doubt it will be supported by a number of Democrats from coal states across the country, not to mention every Republican on Capitol Hill.

The legislative battle is shaping up to be a replay of Obama’s doomed “cap and trade” clean energy proposal in his first term. That bill never saw the light of day, largely because of opposition from coal state Democrats.

The Republicans lost no time this week in mounting a barrage of automated calls against vulnerable Democratic senators seeking re-election in key battleground states, including Alaska, Louisiana, Virginia and Colorado.

The calls tell voters that Obama’s EPA rules will mean “skyrocketing” electricity rates. In Virginia, for example, where Democratic Sen. Mark Warner is running hard for re-election, the robo-calls say, “Tell Mark Warner higher gas prices and new EPA regulations just don’t make sense for Virginia.”

The most influential business groups in the nation are mounting furious lobbying drives of their own, including the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, who say the anti-coal regulations would increase business costs at a time when our economy is still struggling to get out of a painfully slow, jobless recovery.

Last week, the government’s U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis released a revised report that said the economy’s growth rate, as measured by everything we produce and sell, actually shrank by an annual rate of 1 percent in the first three months.

Many business economists have lowered their forecasts for growth, projecting the economy will grow no more than 2 percent for the rest of this year, and possibly well into 2015.

But for all intents and purposes, Obama is thumbing his nose at the economic downturn by happily supporting a lot of costly regulations on businesses and the fossil fuel industry, while flatly opposing needed energy development that would create more jobs.

The president is still blocking the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline with Canada that would create thousands of new jobs. And now, even with fresh, new evidence from his own administration that the economy stopped growing, he has decided to plow ahead with punitive rules on the coal industry.

He says he’s doing this to combat climate change and in behalf of a cleaner environment. But the truth is that the proposed EPA policies won’t do either. Moreover, they are “unnecessary and harmful,” according to an economic analysis by University of Maryland business economist Peter Morici.

Electric utilities and energy-intensive manufacturers in metals, chemicals and other industries have been shifting away from coal to “more abundant and cheaper natural gas,” Morici says. The auto and truck industry has been switching to more fuel-efficient vehicles.

“Together, those free market decisions have reduced CO2 emissions by more than 9 percent from 2005 levels,” he writes.

The Obama White House thinks only in terms of forcing higher costs on businesses and micromanaging the U.S. economy. But in the end, that will do far more harm than good.

“Those initiatives would not do much to arrest global warming, but by increasing taxes and production costs, (they) would send more jobs to China,” Morici says.

China emits nearly twice the carbon dioxide emissions “as either the United States or Europe. Every 18 months, (China’s) emissions grow enough to replace the emissions savings the U.S. will accomplish” under Obama’s 15-year plan.

Unable to improve the economy with his impotent, anti-growth policies, Obama wants to change the subject to global warming — but with proposals that will only make the economy worse.

In the end, the president has given Republicans a political gift that could defeat enough Democrats to put the GOP in charge of the Senate. And he’ll have no one to blame but himself.