By Christine Todd Whitman
March 15, 2015
Sen. Mitch McConnell earlier this month encouraged states to defy federal environmental regulations by simply ignoring them. This was not some quote taken out of context by a pesky reporter; it was an op-ed he wrote in the Lexington Herald-Leader. The Republican Senate majority leader is protesting the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to cut greenhouse gas emissions from coal plants. The agency plans to finalize the rule this summer, after which states will have a chance to submit their own plans to meet the EPA’s specific goal for the state. He writes:
“Think twice before submitting a state plan — which could lock you in to federal enforcement and expose you to lawsuits — when the administration is standing on shaky legal ground and when, without your support, it won’t be able to demonstrate the capacity to carry out such political extremism. Refusing to go along at this time with such an extreme proposed regulation would give the courts time to figure out if it is even legal, and it would give Congress more time to fight back.”
None of this is surprising from the senator who said shortly after his reelection that his top priority was “to try to do whatever I can to get the EPA reined in,” but it is extremely disappointing and has the possibility to undermine our nation’s entire rule of law.
I was brought up to believe that following the law isn’t optional. If you do not like one of those laws, you work to change it. This is why public service is so important — we have to trust our leaders to make the right laws, and if we feel they are not meeting that goal, we have to be willing to engage in the civic process. To have one of our country’s leaders call on states to flout EPA’s appropriate regulation is in direct contradiction to the oath of office that he took.
Far more significant than the senator’s ongoing battle with the EPA, this has the potential to open Pandora’s box when it comes to legislation and our rule of law. This recommendation on behalf of a sitting senator and Senate leader crosses a line that could easily lead to people or states simply choosing which laws they follow. In such a culture, how do you teach children right from wrong, ensuring the next generation doesn’t view all laws as discretionary? This behavior undermines our government as a whole, as well as our deeply held conviction that the rule of law is the foundation of any stable society. After all, the rule of law is the standard we use when determining foreign aid, among other things; it cannot and should not be taken lightly.
As a prominent elected official representing the Republican Party to the country, Sen. McConnell has an obligation to hold himself to the highest standards. He can rail against EPA, cut its budget, do all that he has the power to do within the law if he must, but he cannot and should not call on others to ignore a law. He may regret the consequences, as will we all.