Pope Francis’ call for urgent action to combat climate change isn’t having much influence on members of Congress from the coal state of Kentucky, who are working this week to block the centerpiece of the president’s agenda to limit the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet.
The House of Representatives is expected as soon as Wednesday to pass a bill by Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., which would allow states to reject the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule for carbon emissions from power plants. Whitfield’s bill also would ban the EPA from enforcing the rule until all the legal challenges are decided, which could take years.
There’s a similar effort in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is calling on states to defy the Obama administration’s climate rule. He put language in the interior and environment spending bill that would allow them to do so without consequences, saying the Obama administration is at war “against Kentucky coal jobs, miners and their families.”
The pope in his encyclical last week made a moral case for dealing with climate change and declared that “the Earth, our home, is beginning to look more and more like an immense pile of filth.” Among those who are welcoming the pope’s climate change message is Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., who said the need for urgent action is clear.
The Kentuckians who wield power in Congress, though, have a far less enthusiastic reaction.
McConnell, who is a member of the Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, had no comment on the pope’s call for action. Whitfield, who is a Methodist, responded that there are more important issues facing mankind than climate change, including jobs and poverty.
“Throughout time the climate has changed and is changing today. . . . I do not believe Pope Francis is of the opinion that climate change is the most important issue facing mankind,” Whitfield said in an emailed response to questions.
Whitfield said his bill, which he named the Ratepayer Protection Act, would “protect states and their citizens from EPA’s damaging overreach.”
The pope singled out coal in his encyclical. He wrote that “we know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.”
President Barack Obama praised the pope, saying, “As Pope Francis so eloquently stated . . . we have a profound responsibility to protect our children, and our children’s children, from the damaging impacts of climate change.” The White House and the EPA followed up with a report Monday saying that failure to act on climate change would cost the nation hundreds of billions of dollars annually by the end of the century, and tens of thousands of premature deaths.
Republicans control both chambers of Congress, but they don’t have the votes to overcome a Democratic filibuster or a presidential veto. And Obama is certain to fight their efforts to roll back the EPA rule, which is due to be finalized this summer.
The president’s climate plan would be a blow to the already struggling coal industry, according to a federal government analysis. Electricity generation from coal would decline by more than twice the expected rate, as coal-fired power plants are shuttered.
Along with Whitfield’s bill, the House is expected to vote on a spending measure this week that would cut the EPA’s budget and stop it from enforcing the climate rule.
“This legislation stops the abuse of power by overzealous bureaucratic agencies in Washington, including the EPA, that seek to impose unnecessary regulations that kill jobs and hinder growth,” said House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, R-Ky.
Rogers, who is Baptist, did not respond to questions posed to his office about the pope’s climate change encyclical.