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49 senators oppose Obama's climate rules

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A group of nearly 50 senators signed onto a resolution to repeal the Clean Power Plan. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

A bipartisan coalition of nearly 50 senators signed a bill Tuesday to repeal President Obama's contentious climate change rules for power plants.

The resolution, proposed by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was introduced with 47 senators joining them as cosponsors on the "resolution of disapproval." The resolution would repeal the centerpiece of President Obama's climate change agenda, called the Clean Power Plan, but he is virtually guaranteed not to sign it.

The Clean Power Plan requires states to reduce emissions by one-third by 2030. Critics say the plan oversteps EPA's authority by regulating states instead of individual power plants. Studies performed for industry have shown that the regulations would raise costs for consumers significantly, while making the electricity system vulnerable to power outages.

The resolution, allowed under the Congressional Review Act, can be passed with a simple majority. But it would need a super majority of senators to make it immune to a presidential veto. The total number of supporters, including the original cosponsors, is 49 senators.

The Senate resolution follows 26 states suing the Environmental Protection agency over the rules in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, calling the power plan an unconstitutional "power grab" and an affront to states' rights.

"Our bipartisan legislation enables senators to express their frustration with the rule," Heitkamp said. "We need workable solutions for North Dakota utilities, as well as for a viable path forward for coal – which provides almost 80 percent of North Dakota's electricity — to guarantee our state's families and small businesses have affordable and reliable power."

Heitkamp said that "beyond this resolution," she has "successfully pressed EPA to meet directly with our utilities and regulators." She said the EPA "has agreed to send technical staff to North Dakota to see firsthand how unique our situation is and to work directly with our utilities and regulators on how — or if — we can resolve the many obstacles to meeting these goals."

It is not clear, however, how much that will help her state. On Friday, she decried the agency for making it tougher for her state to comply in the finalized Clean Power Plan, compared with the original proposal. And that was after Heitkamp had arranged negotiations between North Dakota utilities and the EPA to figure out how stringent the targets should be for her state.

The "final rule requires emissions reductions four times higher for North Dakota than were required by the proposed rule, even after my state's utilities spent considerable time and resources working in good faith with the EPA on a viable goal," Heitkamp said Friday. Her state, meanwhile, joined with others in suing the agency.

Tennessee Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander, who is cosponsoring the resolution, said the climate rules undermine his state, which is one of the few building new nuclear power plants. Instead, he argues that the power plan unjustifiably favors wind and solar over more reliable forms of low-emission technologies, such as nuclear and hydro-electric power.

"Picking and choosing winners in the marketplace and prioritizing an unreliable source of electricity such as wind makes little sense and is the energy equivalent of going to war in sailboats when a nuclear Navy is available," Alexander said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is supporting the measure with a separate resolution he introduced that aims to repeal climate rules for new power plants, referred to as the New Source rule. Both the Clean Power Plan and the New Source rule are part of a suite of regulations targeting utilities under Obama's climate change agenda.

The New Source rule constitutes what critics call a de facto ban on building new coal plants. McConnell introduced his resolution of disapproval with Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia. Both senators are from big coal-producing states.