Inhofe Sets His Sights on Obama's Climate Agenda

by Rachel Witkin /  / Updated  / Source: NBC News
Image: James Inhofe, John Ensign
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev. looks on at right, as Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., speaks during a news conference to discuss TARP, Wednesday, April 22, 2009, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)Susan Walsh / AP

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When Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., became chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee in January, he made it clear that his priorities would focus on dismantling President Obama’s climate agenda.

True to his word, Inhofe initiated “rigorous oversight of EPA regulations” coming from the Obama administration, and his committee has conductedextensive hearings.

Inhofe is adamant in his belief that climate change isn’t caused by humans. He wrote a book entitled, “The Greatest Hoax: How The Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future,” and actually brought a snowball onto the Senate floor as proof that climate change isn’t caused by humans – even though weather on a given day has nothing to do with long-term climate patterns.

"The Republican Party will have to change its approach to climate change because voters will insist on it."

President Obama called Inhofe's snowball act on the Senate floor “disturbing” in an interview with Vice News.

"The Republican Party will have to change its approach to climate change because voters will insist on it," Obama said. (Inhofe’s office argues his “snowball” speech was about disproving the president’s assertion that global warming poses a greater threat to Americans than terrorism.)

But Inhofe’s position as committee chair – which he gained after Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate – provides him with a large perch where he can try to discredit President Obama’s environmental legacy

“President Obama has been candid about his plans to pursue climate change policies detrimental to the U.S. economy as a cornerstone of his legacy in his last two years in office,” Inhofe said in January. “However, I plan to lead the committee with conviction for protecting the American people and our economy while being a conscious and responsible steward of our nation’s great resources."

Inhofe's hearings are mainly targeted at evaluating the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, which sets carbon pollution standards for power plants with a goal of 30 percent reduction in carbon dioxide levels (as measured in 2005) by 2030. It’s a plan that the president heavily supports – his proposed 2016 budget includes $25 million for states to help develop the Clean Power Plan and $4 billion in incentives for states that reduce their emissions even further.

Inhofe didn’t respond favorably to this budget, calling Obama’s ideas “pet projects.” In a statement after a March 4 hearing on the budget, he criticized the Clean Power Plan for being too focused on sending a “‘signal’ to other countries that America is serious about climate change.”

(Inhofe isn’t alone in opposing the Obama administration’s plans to curb emissions from power plants. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) sent a letter to all 50 governors asking them to refuse to comply with the regulations. "The administration is standing on shaky legal ground,” he warned in an op-edin the Lexington Herald-Leader. “Without your support, it won't be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism.")

Inhofe says he is concerned that the plan will cause electricity prices to skyrocket.

“Today’s hearing made it abundantly clear that the EPA does not intend to take responsibility for the consequences of their proposed climate rules,” he said in a statement after a Feb 11 hearing, referring to some power plants that may have to close under the new regulations. He also claimed during the hearing that, “at least 43 states will face double digit electricity prices increases.” This figure quotes a study commissioned by the coal industry.

By contrast, the EPA says that if its rules are fully implemented, “electricity bills would be expected to be roughly 8 percent lower than they would been without the actions in state plans.” At a hearing about state impacts Inhofe maintained that the EPA’s plan was “nothing more than a blatant and selfish power grab.”

But the Obama administration remains confident in the plan’s potential. “We believe that a healthy environment for children and future generations should not be a partisan issue,” EPA Press Secretary Liz Purchia told NBC News. “Poll after poll shows that a strong majority of Americans support EPA’s effort to protect public health … [and] safeguard clean air and clean water, which are essential building blocks for a strong economy.”

The EPA’s rules won’t be finalized until this summer. It’s not clear whether the committee plans to introduce alternative legislation or how it intends to proceed. Once the rules are finalized, they will likely be challenged in court, especially if Inhofe’s hearings continue to poke holes in the regulations.

And Inhofe himself shows no signs of slowing down. He said in a statementon March 9 that, “This administration has gone above and beyond to operate behind closed doors, and has developed a pattern of ignoring dissenting views on its aggressive climate agenda.”

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