Mitch McConnell's message to states: ignore the EPA

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) meets with reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb. 24, 2015.
One of the top political headlines in the New York Times this morning reads, "McConnell Urges States to Defy U.S. Plan to Cut Greenhouse Gas." If that sounds a little drastic, it is, but more importantly, the headline happens to be true.
President Obama unveiled an ambitious agenda last summer to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. The goal was specific and important -- a 30% cut in emissions by 2030 -- though the administration told states it would have some flexibility in how it reaches the target.
This week, however, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) wrote a piece for the Lexington Herald-Leader in which the Republican lawmaker had a very different message for states weighing how best to proceed.

Don't be complicit in the administration's attack on the middle class. Think twice before submitting a state plan -- which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits -- when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won't be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism. Refusing to go along at this time with such an extreme proposed regulation would give the courts time to figure out if it is even legal, and it would give Congress more time to fight back. We're devising strategies now to do just that. So for now, hold back on the costly process of complying. A better outcome may yet be possible.

It's pretty bold advice. The Senate Majority Leader is effectively telling state officials to not only ignore the climate crisis, but also to ignore the EPA and federal regulations. How? By waiting to see if judges derail the administration's policy.
In effect, McConnell wants states to gamble: defy federal policy, refuse to submit plans, and hope the courts rule against the White House.
Whether or not the Republican leader realizes this, he's offering bad advice. Rebecca Leber explained:

States can't simply opt out of a federal regulation. Once the EPA finalizes its climate regulations on coal plants by mid-summer, state governments will need to submit their plans before the summer of 2016, detailing how they will curb carbon pollution over the next decade. Each state has the option to come up with the best possible solution to get to their targets by 2030, whether that's through renewable energy development, energy efficiency, or pollution controls at coal plants. But a state doesn't nullify the EPA regulations by simply refusing to submit a plan. If that happens, then the EPA's one-size-fits-all model (a "federal implementation plan") kicks in.

McConnell's piece neglected to mention these inconvenient details: if states gamble and lose, the EPA will simply impose rules on states. If state officials follow the administration's course, they can cater an effective system to their local needs; if they follow McConnell's advice, they risk getting stuck with new regulations they may not like.
I'd just add for context that it's really not helpful, in the sense that governing still matters, when one of the top federal policymakers in Washington encourages states to simply blow off federal policies they don't like. It's bad enough that McConnell chooses to ignore climate science; his op-ed adds insult to injury.