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" has devastated 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 per cent 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 "phoney 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. Much of the decline of the Kentucky coal industry is actually due to the rise of other energy sources, such as cheaper natural gas, as well as cheaper coal from other states; and Obama's regulations have not all taken effect.
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 said 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."
On immigration, McConnell stopped short of pledging that Congress would block Obama's recent executive actions curbing deportations for millions of people who are in the United States illegally.
Republicans strongly oppose Obama's move and are gearing up for a fight on the issue in February, when money runs out for the Department of Homeland Security, which oversees immigration matters. But the GOP's options appear limited, and "exactly how the February episode unfolds I couldn't tell you at this point," McConnell said.
McConnell promised to restore a more open process of legislating and amendments in the Senate, which has been tightly run under outgoing Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. McConnell said he did not think the presence of several potential presidential candidates, including Rubio, would affect the Senate's work.
"I think the Senate can survive presidential ambition," McConnell said.
"Serious adults are in charge here and we intend to make progress. ... We're going to change the Senate's behaviour, and hopefully change the country in the process."
Associated Press writer Alan Fram contributed to this report.