Donald Lambro

WASHINGTON - Just when our economy is shrinking, President Obama wants to impose harsh environmental rules that will kill jobs, raise energy costs and impose new burdens on business.

One week after the government said the U.S. economy contracted in the first quarter, for the first time since 2011, Obama is calling for severe new coal emissions rules that many Democrats in Congress say will hurt their states and its economies.

They will result in widespread job losses with estimates of up to half a million workers, and likely much more than that if the new rules are fully adopted. Those jobs would come, first and foremost, from coal-mining states, but also from many industries that are heavily dependent on coal for their energy needs.

Nearly 20 states obtain more than half their electric power from coal-fired plants, according to the Energy Information Administration. The Chamber of Commerce says EPA's emission rules would cost businesses more than $50 billion.

The Environmental Protection Agency's new rules have infuriated Democrats in major coal-producing states, many of whom are facing tough elections this year at a critical time when Republicans are close to winning the six seats needed to take control of the Senate.

A typical example of the anger the EPA rules have sparked came from West Virginia's Democratic Secretary of State Natalie Tennant who's running for an open Senate seat. She promised voters Monday that she would "stand up" to Obama and EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy "and anyone else who tries to undermine our coal jobs."

Similar criticism came from Kentucky Democrat Alison Lundergan Grimes who is in a tight race to unseat Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell in another pivotal coal state.

McConnell is attacking Grimes for accepting a $2,000 contribution from the president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a leading backer of EPA stricter rules.

West Virginia Rep. Nick J. Rahall II, one of the GOP's chief targets this fall, says he will introduce legislation to block the EPA rules. And no doubt will be supported by a number of Democrats from coal states across the country, not to mention every Republican on Capitol Hill.

The legislative battle is shaping up to be a replay of Obama's doomed "cap and trade" clean energy proposal in his first term. That bill never saw the light of day, largely because of opposition from coal state Democrats.

The Republicans lost no time this week in mounting a barrage of automated calls against vulnerable Democratic senators seeking re-election in key, battleground states, including Alaska, Louisiana, Virginia, and Colorado.

Donald Lambro

Donald Lambro is chief political correspondent for The Washington Times.