The Obama administration’s proposal for forcing power plants to cut carbon emissions, due out Monday, is already becoming an explosive point of debate in some Senate and House midterm races that could prove treacherous for Democrats in energy-producing states.
The proposed rule, to be unveiled Monday by the Environmental Protection Agency, will kick off one of the largest political battles since the rollout last year of the Affordable Care Act. The rule will affect hundreds of fossil-fuel power plants and is destined to trigger lawsuits from states and industry, as well as attempts by Republicans and other opponents to craft a legislative response.
For President Barack Obama, the rule is the centerpiece of efforts to combat global warming and a major element of his attempt to secure a second-term legacy. While the president is expected to remain out of the spotlight when the EPA unveils the rule Monday, he plans to join a conference call with the American Lung Association, casting the rule as needed to protect public health as well as to reduce the carbon emissions that scientists say contribute to climate change.
But the rule has splintered Mr. Obama’s own party and could weaken his political hand in his last two years in office by giving new ammunition to Republicans, who have a strong chance of stripping Democrats of their majority in the Senate.
Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W.Va.), who is among the most vulnerable House Democrats seeking re-election, said the rule’s impact on coal-state Democrats is simply not the top priority at the White House.
“I’m sure that’s not No. 1 in their minds. Probably, the president’s legacy is No. 1,” said Mr. Rahall, who opposes additional restrictions on coal plants.
The Republican message on the proposed rule is largely consistent across the country—an assertion that Democrats will raise energy costs and kill jobs, and that carbon restrictions are futile in the absence of similar action by China and other large polluting nations. Many Republicans are linking the rule to other Obama administration actions that they view as overly intrusive in the economy.