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Alexander Breaks Ranks on Clean Air

Chris Maddaloni/CQ Roll Call

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) doesn’t see a contradiction between his position against repealing an Environmental Protection Agency air-quality rule and the message Republicans have been sounding that EPA rules are hurting small businesses.

“I think we in the Republican Party are grown-up enough to separate a whole avalanche of awful rules, many of which we have seen from the EPA, from good rules, which are rules that make our air clean,” Alexander said Tuesday.

“Most of my constituents where I live and breathe the air are Republicans,” he continued. “They are all for clear air.”

As Senate Republican Conference chairman, Alexander is supposed to be in charge of the party’s public relations efforts. But on the clean air rules, he is decidedly off-message — an indication that he’s not waiting until he vacates his leadership post in January to strike out on the independent path he vowed to pursue once he steps down.

Alexander announced Monday evening in a stinging press release that he will vote against fellow Republican Sen. Rand Paul’s (Ky.) bill to repeal an EPA clean air rule designed to limit power-plant pollution blowing across state lines. “Tennesseans admire much about our Kentucky neighbors — their bluegrass, basketball and distinguished United States Senators,” Alexander said in the statement. “But we don’t want Kentucky’s state income tax. And we don’t want Kentucky’s dirty air.”

Alexander’s position also pits him against a fellow GOP leader and friend, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who is supporting Paul’s proposal.

The vote on a resolution of disapproval — likely to occur Thursday — will mark the first time that Alexander will vote against McConnell on a high-profile issue since he announced in September that he would leave his post as the No. 3 Senate Republican.

According to Paul’s office, the Kentuckian is seeking to prevent the implementation of this new rule because he believes it creates unnecessary regulation in an area that has been properly controlled by previous regulations. The EPA estimates this rule will cost close to $2.4 billion annually, which includes the $1.6 billion already being spent to comply with the previous rule.

Alexander is introducing legislation that would enact the proposed rule into law but give utilities one additional year to implement it. 

A GOP leadership aide said leaders do not see Alexander’s position as muddying their message on federal regulations.

“There is broad Republican unity that most federal regulations are standing in the way of job creation,” the aide said.

Sen. John Cornyn (Texas), who heads the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said he believes there is room for debate on the issue within the party.

“We all agree with the goal, and that is clean air,” said Cornyn, who plans to back Paul. “The question is what additional burden are we going to put on the states and businesses we are depending on to create jobs.”

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