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Mercury rule at center of the war on coal

By James Inhofe, Special to CNN
June 19, 2012 -- Updated 1435 GMT (2235 HKT)
 A coal miner holds a sign during a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney in Craig, Colorado.
A coal miner holds a sign during a campaign rally for Republican presidential candidate Gov. Mitt Romney in Craig, Colorado.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Senate to vote on Sen. Inhofe's resolution to overturn EPA's mercury emissions rule
  • Rule applies to coal-fired plants, he says, and will hike energy costs, hurt miners, industry
  • Inhofe: United Mine Workers, major business groups oppose EPA's excessive regulation
  • EPA emissions rule part of President Obama's global warming agenda, Inhofe says

Editor's note: James Inhofe, a Republican, is the senior senator from Oklahoma and ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

(CNN) -- On Wednesday, the U.S. Senate will have the opportunity to put a stop to one of the most expensive Environmental Protection Agency rules in history: the Mercury and Air Toxic Standards rule. This is the centerpiece of President Obama's war on coal.

Called MATS, or Utility MACT, this rule will destroy jobs and cause energy prices to skyrocket. By voting for my resolution, SJR 37, members of the Senate can prevent the Obama EPA from inflicting so much economic pain on American families.

How do we know that Utility MACT is designed to kill coal? Just ask EPA Region One Administrator Curt Spalding, who was seen on video admitting that because of the EPA's regulatory barrage, "If you want to build a coal plant you got a big problem." He went on to say that EPA's decision to kill coal was "painful every step of the way," because "if you go to West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and all those places, you have coal communities who depend on coal."

Well, those communities that depend on coal are feeling that pain, and that's why bipartisan momentum is growing for my resolution. West Virginia's Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, a Democrat, recently wrote to West Virginia Sens. Joe Manchin and Jay Rockefeller urging them to vote for SJR 37, saying EPA's rules have "coalesced to create an unprecedented attack on West Virginia's coal industry." West Virginia's Lt. Gov. Jeffrey Kessler echoed this concern, saying that EPA is destroying the state's "most valuable state natural resource and industry."

James Inhofe
James Inhofe

Labor, too, has come out to stop the job-killing over-regulation. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers, one of the biggest labor unions in the country, recently sent a letter to several senators asking them to support my resolution because of "the threat that the EPA MATS rule poses to United Mine Workers Association members' jobs, the economies of coal field communities, and the future direction of our national energy policy." In addition, we've also secured the support of the Chamber of Commerce, the National Federation of Independent Business, the Farm Bureau and the National Association of Manufacturers, all of which represent major groups who are apparently not "doing fine" in the face of EPA's regulations.

Let me be clear that this campaign to destroy coal is not about public health. If it were, Democrats would not have voted against my Clear Skies bill back in 2005, a bill that would have achieved a reduction in mercury emissions of 70% by 2018. In fact, at that time, then-Sen. Obama served with me on the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. As he explained, "I voted against the Clear Skies bill. In fact, I was the deciding vote."

There is a crucial difference between Clear Skies and Utility MACT. Clear Skies would have reduced emissions without harming jobs and our economy because it was based on a common-sense, market-based approach, designed to retain coal as a generator of electricity while reducing emissions each year. On the other hand, Utility MACT is designed to kill coal as well as all the good paying jobs that come with it, while providing little -- if any -- environmental gain.

Just before President Obama felt compelled to halt EPA's plan to tighten the ozone standard after significant push-back from Congress, then-White House Chief of Staff Bill Daley asked, "What are the health impacts of unemployment?"

That is one of the most important questions before the Senate in preparation for the vote to stop Utility MACT. What are the health impacts on children whose parents will lose their jobs because of President Obama's war on coal? What are the health impacts on children in low-income families whose parents will have to spend more for skyrocketing electricity costs and less on their kids' well-being?

The good news is that Congress can halt President Obama's senseless war on fossil fuels and affordable energy. Many of my Democratic colleagues have gone on record saying they want to rein in this agency. Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill is one of them; she told Missourians that she is determined to "hold the line on the EPA." Does that mean she, and other Senate Democrats who have made similar statements, will vote to stop the centerpiece of Obama's war on coal?

I believe the EPA should go back to the drawing board and draft a rule targeted at mercury that would balance economic growth with environmental gain.

The vote on my resolution will clearly demonstrate to the American people which senators will "hold the line" and stand with their constituents for jobs and affordable energy, and which senators will stand with President Obama and his global warming agenda that will be painful -- "every step of the way" -- for their constituents.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of James Inhofe.

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