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J. Scott Applewhite, Associated Press
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., talks about his agenda for a GOP-controlled Congress during an interview with The Associated Press at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014. McConnell says approving the Keystone XL pipeline will top the Senate agenda in January.

WASHINGTON — Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., pledged on Wednesday to do all he can to stop President Barack Obama's coal plant regulations, saying a White House "crusade" was devastating his state's economy.

The Environmental Protection Agency "has created a depression in my state and it's done a lot of damage to the country all across the country with these efforts to essentially eliminate coal fired generation," he said in an Associated Press interview.

"I couldn't be angrier about it and whatever we can think of to try to stop it we're going to do. ... I know it won't be easy with Barack Obama in the White House."

McConnell takes over the Senate leadership and its new Republican majority in January. He reaffirmed plans to make approving the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Canada to Texas, as the first order of business. He said other moves to counter Obama's environmental policies await, but he did not offer details.

The Obama administration is trying to get fossil-fuel fired power plants to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030. The White House also recently announced a deal with China to curb the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.

Asked if the Senate had any obligation to address global warming, McConnell said, "Look, my first obligation is to protect my people, who are hurting as the result of what this administration is doing."

He said that despite the administration's "phony deal" with China, "coal is booming elsewhere."

"Our country, going down this path all by ourselves, is going to have about as much impact as dropping a pebble in the ocean," McConnell said.

"So for the president to pursue his crusade at the expense of the people of my state is completely unacceptable, and I'm going to do any and everything I can to stop it," McConnell said.

McConnell also was cool to the administration's plans to normalize ties with Cuba. He said he defers to Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American from Florida, on the issue because he says Rubio is an expert on U.S.-Cuban matters.

Rubio has said that Obama's approach will help the Castro government while doing nothing to further human rights and democracy.

"Sounds like the correct response to me," McConnell said. "I think he knows more about this than almost anybody in the Senate if not everybody in the Senate and I wouldn't differ with his characterization."

Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.