The first-ever federal limit on the amount of carbon that power plants can pump into the atmosphere had not even been formally announced on Monday before the political fight began.
Citing concerns over efficacy, the economy, government overreach and even the science upon which the Obama administration’s historic Clean Power Plan is founded, several Republican presidential candidates were quick to condemn the aggressive regulations and vow to roll them back.
With just three days to go before the first Republican primary debate, the knee-jerk reaction among GOP hopefuls foreshadowed the outsize role climate change policy would play in the 2016 election compared to previous years. The issue barely came up in 2012. Now, it seems the plan’s introduction stands to alter the political environment as much as the actual environment.
Speaking this weekend at a private gathering of wealthy donors in Orange County, California, hosted by billionaire conservatives Charles and David Koch, three Republican presidential candidates -- former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz -- blasted the new rules and incentives aimed at curbing carbon emissions, which were officially introduced by President Obama Monday.
Rubio warned the regulations would raise the cost of electricity for millions of Americans, and threw a veiled jab at wealthy Democratic donors who are looking for solid commitments from candidates to address climate change.
"So if there's some billionaire somewhere who is a pro-environmental, cap and trade person, yeah, they can probably afford for their electric bill to go up a couple of hundred dollars," Rubio said Sunday. "But if you're a single mom in Tampa, Florida, and your electric bill goes up by $30 a month, that is catastrophic."
Rubio added that the new regulations would “do nothing to address the underlying issue” without similarly dramatic changes in other countries. “[A]s far as I can see,” said Rubio, “China and India and other developing countries are going to continue to burn anything they can get their hand on.”
While it is true that the U.S. cannot reduce the effects of climate change alone, it’s too soon to say that it would have to. Last year, the U.S. and China reached an agreement that would require China to stop expanding its emissions by 2030, at the latest. Brazil, another one of the world’s largest emitters of greenhouse gases, also promised in June to get 20% of its power from green energy by 2030 and to reforest 12 million hectares of land by that time as well. In December, negotiators from the U.S. and other nations will gather in Paris to try to reach a global climate agreement.
Like Rubio, fellow Floridian Jeb Bush also voiced economic objections to the new regulations and framed the plan as yet another unconstitutional power grab by the president.
“It’s typical of the Obama administration, taking executive power he doesn’t have,” Bush said Sunday. “I believe it’s unconstitutional, and I think, in a relatively short period of time, the courts will determine that as well.”
Texas Sen. Ted Cruz also said in a statement that the plan was “lawless” and “flatly unconstitutional.” At the donor meeting Sunday, Cruz questioned the entire premise of global warming and accused scientists of “cooking the books.”
“I’m saying that data and facts don’t support it,” Cruz said of global warming. When his interviewer, Politico’s Mike Allen, asked if he was making a full-on denial, Cruz doubled down: “It is always disturbing to hear science use the language of theology. Deniers. Heretics. That’s not what science is supposed to be about. Science should follow the facts.”
As Obama’s formal announcement drew near, more GOP contenders joined in on the slug-fest. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker released a statement Monday saying the plan would more aptly be titled the “Costly Power Plan” because of the economic toll it would take on hard-working Americans.
“It will be like a buzz saw on the nation’s economy,” said Walker, who in May sent a letter to the president saying the proposal was “riddled with inaccuracies, questionable assumptions and deficiencies that make the development of a responsible state plan unworkable.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, meanwhile, took to Twitter with his criticisms:
If it survives legal and legislative challenges, the Clean Power Plan could remake the way Americans generate and consume electricity, accelerating a shift away from coal-fired power plants -- the chief source of the greenhouse gas emissions that scientists blame for global warming. It could also rescue Obama’s mixed legacy on global warming, making good on his 2008 inaugural promise to slow the rise of the oceans and heal the planet.
But none this is going to happen without an extraordinary legal, political and even cultural battle. The fight could stretch for years, inspiring an escalating level of activism and opposition. Many experts expect the fate of the plan will end up being decided by the Supreme Court.
The EPA and the Obama administration, for their part, tried to get ahead of the criticism on Sunday and Monday. In a weekend conference call with reporters, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy had strong words for critics who hadn’t even emerged yet.
“Over the next few days, we’ll hear the same tired plays from the same special-interest playbook she said. “But they’re wrong.”
During a Q&A with reporters, she emphasized the constitutionality of plan, calling it “well within the four corners of the Clean Air Act” and “legally a very strong rule.” She also rebutted the claim that the plan would be bad for the economy and effectively meaningless because climate change is global problem.
“Since three of the world’s largest economies have stepped up,” she said, referring to global agreements already announced between America, China and Brazil, “we’re confident other nations will follow, and the world will reach a climate agreement in Paris later this year.”
“Climate change,” she added, “is an economic opportunity.”
In the weeks ahead, Obama will begin his own “all-out-push” on climate change, Brian Deese, the administration’s top adviser on environmental policy, said on the same call on Sunday. The president will address a clean energy summit in Nevada, travel to the melting edge of the Alaskan Arctic and appear alongside major ally Pope Francis, a man who has called for “social revolution” to fix the planet.
“I don’t want my grand-kids to not be able to swim in Hawaii or not be able to climb a mountain and see a glacier because we didn’t do something about it,” Obama said in the emotional conclusion to his speech Monday. “That’d be shameful of us. This is our moment to get this right and leave something better for our kids.”