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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to issue carbon standards in the next few days that will regulate air emissions at new power plants, the first salvo in the climate offensive President Obama promised to launch from the Oval Office.  Earlier this week, coal state senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) responded to the coming announcement with legislation that would bar EPA from promulgating the regulatory package. Today, senate majority leader Harry Reid (D-NV) blocked McConnell’s bill.  According to The Hill:

Senator Mitch McConnell: In the year President Obama took office there were over 18,600 employed in the coal industry in my state. But as of September 2013, the number of persons employed at Kentucky coal mines is only 13,000.

Reid promised to work with McConnell to hold a vote on the bill at a later date, but McConnell said the measure was needed now because the administration is expected to preview regulations on carbon emissions this week.

“We have a genuine emergency in Kentucky … as a result of what this administration is doing and about to do this week,” McConnell said. “The EPA’s actions ignore the fact that thousands of Kentuckians depend on coal for their livelihood.

As we noted here (EarthDesk, June 26), the climate plan launched by the president will face stiff opposition from conservative congressional leaders who perceive it as an end-run around the Senate and House. Delaying tactics can have a significant impact on the diminishing clout of a second-term president.

McConnell faces a serious primary challenge this year, as David Corn notes in his Mother Jones column today. And clearly his bill was also a public appeal to his home state base. McConnell’s office has issued a news release entitled, Senate Leadership Blocks McConnell’s Saving Coal Jobs Legislation, that reads in part:

The EPA is due this week to announce regulations capping carbon emissions on new coal-fired power plants.   It’s just the latest Administration salvo in its never ending War on Coal; a War against the very people who provide power and energy for our country.  The EPA has already stifled the permitting process for new coal mines; the agency has done this so dramatically that they have effectively shut down many coal mines through illegitimate, dilatory tactics.

Over at The Equation, a blog of the Union of Concerned Scientists, Rachel Cleetus provides an excellent rundown of EPA’s options. It begins:

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will be reissuing a draft carbon standard for new power plants on or around September 20. These standards, particularly the one for existing power plants which will be issued in draft form in June 2014, could help reduce carbon emissions significantly if EPA uses existing flexibilities in the Clean Air Act to help ensure a transition away from polluting coal plants to clean sources like renewable energy and energy efficiency.

Unfortunately, the question may not be the best EPA course, but whether President Obama has time to execute key elements of his climate plan before he becomes a political lame duck. The clock is ticking.