President Barack Obama is bypassing Congress to take a big swing at Big Coal — with the EPA announcing a sweeping new cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon pollution from power plants.
A 30 percent cut in emissions from 2005 levels by 2030 is a big number — less than environmental groups want but far more than the president can get via Congress, where climate change skeptics rule the House and the Democratic Senate so far avoiding bringing a climate change bill to the floor during Obama's presidency.
The Obama power plant rules are the most far-reaching policies in the "pen-and-phone" second-term presidency, with the impact touching every American who turns on a light switch. The president's counselor, John Podesta, has already boasted that there is "zero chance" Congress can rein in the president's climate change regulations , and that's probably true, despite the certainty that Republican leaders will force votes to block the regulations.
Ahead of the announcement, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell was already promising a bill to block the new EPA rules.
"From what we have heard this is just the latest attempt at a national energy tax by the Obama Administration and yet another assault on Kentucky coal jobs and the Commonwealth's economy," the Kentucky Republican said in a May 30 statement.
Congress would have to override a presidential veto even if the Democratic-controlled Senate agreed to send either a resolution of disapproval or a new bill blocking the regulations to the president's desk.
Obama hasn't vetoed a bill since early in his first term, and hasn't had a veto overridden.
But like the president's other signature domestic initiative, the health care law, Obama's climate change rules will face a legal and political thicket.
McConnell has made the president's "war on coal" the centerpiece of his re-election campaign — and other Republicans are sure to use the regulations as fodder for the fall effort to take over the Senate. And the regulations will almost certainly be re-litigated in the 2016 presidential election.
The administration is avoiding mentioning the terms "cap-and-trade" and "coal" — even though they are at the center of the plan. The EPA rules mention coal 203 times in 645 pages, but the word "coal" isn't in the EPA's press release.
Obama also didn't mention "cap" or "trade" in his weekly radio address, which was devoted to the issue.
Republicans could press an appropriations rider prohibiting the EPA from spending any money to implement the regulation — but that would almost certainly precipitate another nasty government shutdown, with the president having little incentive to give in.
Assuming the regulations survive politics, they'll also have to survive legal challenges that are likely to end up at the Supreme Court.
A narrow majority of the court has been friendly to the EPA's ability to regulate carbon dioxide. But it will take years before any case reaches the high court.