FRANKFORT, Ky. - The U.S Senate's top Republican called again Wednesday for the Environmental Protection Agency to back off from "heavy-handed" regulations that he said are costing jobs in the private sector.
Sen. Mitch McConnell urged his colleagues Wednesday to force the EPA to revamp regulatory standards that put stricter limits on mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxins from coal-fired power plants.
"Call me naive, but I think most Americans think the government should be working for them, not against them," McConnell said. "I think most Americans think the federal government should be working to create the conditions for Americans to prosper, not looking for any opportunities to undercut free enterprise. Yet that's what we see - an administration that always seems to assume the worst of the private sector and whose policies are aimed at undermining it. And nowhere is that more clear than at the EPA."
Exhaust rises from smokestacks in front of piles of coal at NRG Energy’s W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station in Thompsons, Texas.
The Senate voted 53-46 on Wednesday to defeat a resolution sponsored by Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma that would have prevented the EPA from implementing the so-called "Utility MACT" regulation that McConnell and others insist is part of a "war on coal."
Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., lamented that people can't even eat fish they catch in many places because of mercury contamination, and she urged defeat the resolution. Environmental groups also joined in opposing the resolution.
"Attempts to rescind this rule that is designed to protect the health and well-being of our families and waterways from the impacts of coal-fired power plants are preposterous," said Marc Yaggi, executive director of Waterkeeper Alliance, in a statement.
In Kentucky's coal fields, the EPA has alienated many miners and their families who fear they will lose their jobs to more stringent regulation. Hundreds of miners demonstrated in Frankfort earlier this month to focus attention on their concerns.
McConnell said the regulation would be especially harmful to Kentucky.
"This regulation would expand the already massive powers given to the EPA by increasing red tape and costing the taxpayer over $10 billion dollars each year," McConnell said. "In my state, in Kentucky alone, it threatens the jobs of over 1,400 people working in aluminum smelter plants as well as approximately 18,000 coal miners, not to mention those engaged in industries that support these jobs."
McConnell said Kentucky Power Co. plans to shut down a coal-fired generating plant rather than bear the cost of nearly $1 billion in upgrades to meet the environmental standards.
"This is just one battle in the administration's war on jobs, but it has a devastating consequence for real people and real families in my state and in many others," McConnell said. "The administration's nonchalant attitude about these people is appalling, but this is precisely the danger of having unelected bureaucrats in Washington playing with the livelihoods of Americans as if they're nothing more than just pieces on a chessboard.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Kentucky, said the regulation could cost 50,000 jobs in the U.S.
"Yes, we want to be safe," he said, "but there has to be a balancing act."