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Republicans Had Months to Prepare for War Over Obama's Climate Plan, and This Is the Best They Could Do?

Getty Images/Win McNamee

Last December, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell met with Kentuckians to discuss the EPA’s future regulations of greenhouse gases. He promised to return to Washington and tell regulators “firsthand how this War on Coal is hurting Kentucky miners and their families.”

On Monday, the EPA released those feared rules and McConnell followed through on his promise. “The point of this whole exercise is sadly obvious: it’s not really about science or global warming at all, it’s about making privileged elitists — elitists who may not feel the pinch of a higher utility bill or the pain of a lost job — feel like they ‘did something,'” he said. Nearly every Republican press release echoed McConnell’s words. But a funny thing happens when you take a closer look at those arguments: they quickly fall apart.

What’s more, Republicans had months to develop their position. It was a year ago that Obama instructed the agency to release a proposal in June 2014. Three weeks ago, Bloomberg reported that the release date would be June 2. Even the design of the rules was not much of a secret: The administration used a proposal from the NRDC as a template and the new rules even leaked over the weekend. In other words, Republican had ample time to prepare their arguments.

Yet, their three arguments against the new regulations only prove the weakness of their position. In those five months between McConnell meeting his constituents and Monday, Republicans were unable to devise a single, credible argument against the new rules. Here is what they came up with:

The rules will drive up costs for consumers.

Republicans relied upon a Chamber of Commerce report released last week that found that the regulations would cost consumers $17 billion a year. As Jonathan Chait noted, the estimate included wild assumptions that drastically overstate the costs, particularly because the actual rules are slightly more lenient than expected. Even so, the Chamber’s estimate wasn’t that dire: an extra $100 in energy costs per year for consumers and 224,000 fewer jobs. As Chait concluded, “what the Chamber is actually demonstrating, in its attempts to frighten us, is that we hardly have anything to fear.”

Unsurprisingly, that didn’t stop Republican politicians from using those estimates in their press releases, but they couldn’t even do that correctly. Senator Roy Blunt completely butchered the numbers in his release, as Roll Call’s Steven Dennis found. Blunt’s press release stated that the new regulations would cost Missouri consumers $11 billion a year. That’s two-thirds of the Chamber’s estimate of the costs to all U.S. consumers. That’s not right. Dennis found that Blunt tabulated the costs using regional estimates that included parts of 25 states. As Dennis says, this was a “spectacular math fail” and one that Blunt’s office had plenty of time to get right.

The rules won’t make an impact on global warming.

Republicans have also loved to demonize the costs of the law while arguing that it has zero benefits, because it will not make a dent in global warming. This is technically right, but ignores the global impact of U.S. leadership. The goal of these regulations is not to stop global warming, but to prove to the international community that the United States is ready to pay additional costs to combat climate change. Just this morning, an adviser to the Chinese government announced that China would cap its carbon emissions starting in 2016. You never know what to believe from the Chinese in the media, but the ultimate goal of these regulations is to spur major polluters like China to follow the U.S.’s lead. Republicans have chosen to ignore that possible benefit.

The rules are another Obama power grab.

Finally, Republicans have added the EPA regulations to their list of lawless actions taken by Obama. “This is not about the environment,” said Rep. Matt Salmon. “This is about a power grab.” This is 100 percent wrong. In 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA is required to regulate pollution that poses a risk to public health. As The New Republic’s Jonathan Cohn explained, then-EPA administrator Stephen Johnson told President Bush in 2008 that he was required by law to regulate greenhouse gases as they were a threat to public health. Current EPA administrator Gina McCarthy is following the word of the law. That doesn’t mean different parts of the regulations won’t be challenged in court, but unless Congress modifies or repeals the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to regulate greenhouse gases.

It’s no secret that the Republican midterm strategy of demonizing Obamacare hasn’t worked out as planned. In turn, Republicans have scrambled to find new attacks against Obama and a new message for November, particularly one that would increase turnout. They have seemed to settle on the meme that Obama is a lawless president. That’s why Salmon calls the new regulations a power grab: It fits into their new message, even if it is obviously untrue.

But these flimsy arguments only demonstrate the weakness of the Republican position, both politically and policy-wise. If Obamacare was the train wreck they predicted, Republicans would want to keep the focus on the health care law. They would criticize Obama for the EPA rules, but quickly turn their attention back to the Affordable Care Act. And if the rules were actually as grave a threat to the economy as they warn, they would have credible numbers to back up those warnings. Instead, they have neither—and their desperate attempts to demonize the Democratic position are on full display.

This post has been updated.