House GOP's Parting Gift: A Lump of Coal for Campaign Season

The House left for the campaign season today with a symbolic, blue-collar bipartisan vote that took aim at the Obama administration for environmental overreach accused of killing jobs in the coal industry.

The lower chamber passed the Stop the War on Coal Act today 233-175 despite a veto threat Wednesday night from the White House.

Rep. Bill Johnson’s (R-Ohio) Coal Miner Employment and Domestic Energy Infrastructure Protection Act, at the core of the package of five bills, would block the Interior Department from issuing or approving any proposed or final regulation under the Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 that would adversely affect employment at coal mines.

“The Administration strongly opposes H.R. 3409, which packages together a number of harmful measures that would undermine landmark environmental laws and adversely affect public health, the economy, and the environment,” the Office of Management and Budget said in the veto threat. “The bill would roll back safeguards that protect public health, undercut fuel economy standards that will save Americans money at the pump while decreasing our dependence on oil, and roll back key provisions underpinning Clean Water Act protections.”

Nineteen Democrats crossed the aisle to vote for the bill, while 13 Republicans broke ranks to vote against it.

“I am in full support of sound legislation that advances an all-of-the-above energy strategy and leverages the complete set of resources right here in America in an environmentally-responsible way,” said Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Va.). “I voted against today’s bill because I share the concerns that some experts have raised that one of the embedded parts of the bill could prevent the progress I am committed to seeing in preserving and protecting the Chesapeake Bay.”

But all in all, it was a heavy Republican push to put jobs and energy front-and-center on the agenda as lawmakers head home to their districts for the drive toward Election Day.

In fact, the very act of the last vote itself had strong campaign overtones.

Missouri Rep. Todd Akin (R) wasn’t present for the vote, prompting the incumbent he’s challenging in the fall, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), to tweet: “I think it’s important to make votes, even during campaign season. Akin? Not so much. He has skipped 86%of his votes since July 1.”

“President Obama has waged a steady, aggressive, and job-destroying assault on the coal industry in America, which is bleeding Pennsylvania and other coal producing states of family-sustaining jobs and affordable and accessible energy,” said Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.).

The congressman noted that this week Alpha Natural Resources announced it will eliminate 1,200 jobs and close eight mines in Pennsylvania, Virginia, and West Virginia, which its CEO said was a direct result of “a regulatory environment that’s aggressively aimed at constraining the use of coal.”

“In fact, the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity released an analysis this week highlighting the more than 200 coal-based electric generating units that are scheduled to be shut down due to, in part, regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency,” Kelly said. “These coal closures are tantamount to shutting down the entire electricity supply of Ohio, costing jobs, raising prices, and moving our nation away from achieving energy independent.”

Organizations supporting the package of five bills included the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“President Obama’s war on coal is real.  The lost jobs are already happening and thousands more are at risk.  Americans’ energy costs are already too high, and the war on coal will drive them higher,” Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said on the House floor yesterday.

Today, Johnson called the passage “an important step forward in stopping one of President Obama’s most economically destructive policies.”

“The Stop the War on Coal Act is common sense legislation that protects coal jobs from these destructive regulations that have put the heavy boot of an out of control federal regulatory bureaucracy on the neck of the coal industry,” he said.

In addition to Johnson’s legislation, the other bills included in the package were Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton’s (R-Mich.) Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, which amend the Clean Air Act to prohibit the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency from making rules on greenhouse gases to address climate change; Rep. John Sullivan’s (R-Okla.) Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation Act of 2011, which would create a panel to do cost-benefit analyses on EPA regs; Rep. David McKinley’s (R-W.Va.) Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act; and Rep. John Mica’s (R-Fla.) Clean Water Cooperative Federalism Act of 2011, which would amend the Federal Water Pollution Control Act to let states make their own water quality determinations.

Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Rick Berg (R-N.D.), Paul Gosar (R-Ariz.), and James Lankford (R-Okla.) offered an amendment, which passed 228 to 183, that said states rather than the EPA ought to be the primary regulatory authorities with regional haze programs.

“The EPA has been superseding states’ authority and setting regional haze controls that cost millions to implement but actually do very little to improve air visibility,” said Flake. “States like Arizona ought to have primary regulatory authority when it comes to controlling regional haze. We’ve got to keep the EPA in check on this.”

The Stop the War on Coal Act will come to a stop in the Senate, which is unlikely to take it up in the lame-duck session. But even inaction lends to the Republicans’ campaign-season message.

“House Republicans have passed several bills from our American Energy Initiative, and it’s past time for the Senate to join us in our efforts to expand domestic energy production and protect American jobs,” said National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-Texas).