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EPA's Proposed Rules Add To Obama's Collision Course With GOP

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The Environmental Protection Agency has drafted new regulations on ozone pollution. Those rules are just the latest in a series of moves from the White House that have put President Obama on a collision course with Congress. NPR's national political correspondent Mara Liasson reports.

MARA LIASSON, BYLINE: The EPA's proposed ozone regulations would limit ozone pollution - commonly known as smog - from power plants and factories. The president had delayed the move until after he was reelected, and the EPA was facing a court-ordered deadline of next week to issue the rule. Republicans and manufacturing groups called the new rule the single most expensive regulation ever and said it would force businesses to install costly new scrubbing technology on their smokestacks. But the move was hailed by environmentalists and public health advocates like Janice Nolen, vice president of the American Lung Association.

JANICE NOLEN: This is one of the most important things he can do because it literally saves lives. It prevents asthma attacks. It protects public health. The Clean Air Act, and this part of it, have been some of the most effective tools we have used to prevent and to protect health across the nation. And this is an important legacy.

LIASSON: With just two years left in his term, legacy may be what the president is looking for here. The new ozone rule is another example of the president's aggressive approach now that he doesn't have to stand for reelection again. Next year, the EPA is expected to issue more regulations aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants. And earlier this month, President Obama made a sweeping new deal with China on climate change, where both countries agreed to reduce their net greenhouse gas emissions.

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PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: This is an ambitious goal, but it is an achievable goal. It will double the pace at which we're reducing carbon pollution in the United States.

LIASSON: Ambitious is right - as soon as the midterm elections were over, President Obama acted as though he had gained new powers rather than suffered a stinging defeat. He signaled he will do as much as he can to enact his environmental agenda with or without the approval of the new Republican Congress. The incoming GOP majority doesn't like that one bit. Here's Kentucky Republican Senator Mitch McConnell, who will be the Senate majority leader in January.

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SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: The president continues to send signals that he has no intention of moving toward the middle. I was particularly distressed about a deal he's reached with the Chinese, which, as I read, the agreement requires the Chinese to do nothing at all for 16 years, while these carbon emission regulations are creating havoc in my state and other states around the country.

LIASSON: McConnell's reaction to yesterday's ozone announcement was much the same. He issued a statement saying that the president's regulations denied the American people the bipartisanship they want to see in Washington. And he promised that Congress will take appropriate action to stop the new rules. But it's not clear what the Republican Congress can do to stop them.

The Supreme Court has affirmed the EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act and anything Congress might do would face a presidential veto. In that situation, says a senior White House official, quote, "we are confident we can prevail." It's possible that on some environmental issues - an upcoming decision on the Keystone pipeline for instance - there could be horse-trading, or compromise. But the prospect of conflict with Congress is not a deterrent to this White House, which has its eyes firmly fixed on the president's place in history. Mara Liasson, NPR News, the White House. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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