CONCORD, N.H. — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's call for governors to defy proposed federal rules to limit pollution has been met with mostly silence, but leaders in downwind New England states and drought-stricken areas in the West are pushing back.
The Kentucky Republican wrote to all the nation's governors in March after the Environmental Protection Agency proposed a rule to limit carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants. McConnell said he thinks the rule is illegal and, if enacted, would hurt the U.S. economy and kill energy jobs.
Democratic Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin was blunt in his response to McConnell.
"I disagree," he wrote. "Climate change is real. It's a threat to humanity. We should be working harder to address it, not rolling back efforts to do so."
New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan, also a Democrat, pointed to efforts there, including the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, as ways to trim carbon emissions and urged McConnell to reconsider his opposition to the EPA's rule. Because of prevailing weather conditions, states in the Northeast and New England are "downwind" of coal-fired power plants in the Midwest and have blamed carbon emissions and other pollution for environmental ills including acid rain.
"I respectfully disagree with your letter and would ask that states in the Midwest (and Kentucky) follow the science and take a more active effort in reducing harmful emissions, including CO2 emissions — particularly emissions generated through coal-fired power plants," Hassan wrote.
Aides to Republican governors in Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee and Wyoming say they have not responded to the letter; some say they won't. The same is true for Democratic governors in California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, New York, Pennsylvania, Washington and West Virginia.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican eyeing a presidential run in 2016, opposes the EPA rule and his state has joined a lawsuit challenging it.
"If enacted, the EPA's Clean Power Plan would be a blow to Wisconsin residents and business owners, and I join business leaders, elected officials, and industry representatives in opposing this plan," he said in comments opposing the rule.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown didn't reply to McConnell but said on "Meet The Press" that climate change linked to carbon emissions is the culprit in the state's multi-year drought and other extreme weather.
"That's why to have the leader of the Senate, Mr. McConnell, representing his coal constituents, putting at risk the health and well-being of America, is a disgrace," Brown said. "There is no doubt that into the future we're going to have more problems and we have to do something. President Obama is taking some important steps. And to fight that, it borders on the immoral."
In his letter, McConnell said states should refuse to submit compliance plans to Washington.
"Don't be complicit in the administration's attack on the middle class," he wrote.
McConnell had no immediate response this week to the governors' reaction.
House Republicans have also criticized the rule, a key element of President Barack Obama's strategy to fight climate change. Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky drafted a bill allowing governors to veto compliance with the federal rule if the governor determines it would cause significant rate hikes for electricity or threaten reliability. That bill also would delay the EPA's climate rule until all court challenges are completed.
A group of Democratic U.S. Senators on Tuesday drafted their own letter to the governors, urging them to comply with the EPA rule and pointing out that McConnell's home state is already drafting a compliance plan.
"His is not the voice from ahead saying the trail is not safe; his is the voice obstinately staying behind saying, 'Let's not even try,'" the senators wrote.
A spokeswoman for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy said the agency fully expects states to develop their own plans to comply with the rule.
"At the same time, EPA has an obligation under the Clean Air Act to develop a model federal plan — something that many states have asked EPA to do so it can provide an example for states developing their own plans," said Liz Purchia.
Associated Press writers contributing to this report were: Julie Carr Smyth in Ohio, Brian Witte in Maryland, Gary Robertson in North Carolina, John Hanna in Kansas, Cathy Bussewitz in Hawaii, James MacPherson in North Dakota, Juliet Williams in California, Kathleen Foody in Georgia, Lisa Baumann in Montana, Erik Schelzig in Tennessee, David Klepper in New York, Steve Singer in Connecticut, Todd Richmond in Wisconsin, Catherine Lucey in Iowa, Marc Levy in Pennsylvania, James Nord in South Dakota, Melinda Deslatte in Louisiana, Alanna Durkin in Maine, Ben Neary in Wyoming, Rachel LaCorte in Washington, Jonathan Mattise in West Virginia and Steve LeBlanc in Massachusetts.