White House waves veto pen at measure to nix EPA pollution rule

The White House said Monday that it would likely veto a GOP-led plan to overturn Environmental Protection Agency regulations that require cuts in mercury and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The Senate is slated to vote this week on Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) resolution to overturn the regulations that were finalized late last year.

A formal White House “statement of administration policy” issued Monday says Inhofe’s plan, if successful, would “cause substantial harm to public health and undermine our nation's longstanding commitment to clean up pollution from power plants.”

It says that if the plan reached Obama’s desk, his senior advisers would recommend that he veto it.

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Inhofe and other EPA critics say the rule forcing cuts in air toxics, and separate regulations on smog-forming pollutants, would raise power costs, harm the economy and cost jobs by leading to closure of substantial numbers of power plants.

But backers of the rules say they will provide major public health protections, and call the allegations against them badly overblown.

“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will ensure that the Nation's power plants install modern, widely available technologies to limit harmful pollution — leveling the playing field for power plants that already have such controls in place,” the White House said.

Inhofe’s resolution under the Congressional Review Act is immune from filibuster, and he’s expected to pick up the votes of at least three conservative Democrats. But he’s nonetheless unlikely to win the majority vote needed for passage. A vote is expected Wednesday.

The White House statement notes that Congressional Review Act resolutions are blunt instruments.

“[I]f a rule is disapproved under the Congressional Review Act, an agency may not issue a rule that is ‘substantially the same.’ In this case, because EPA has adhered closely to its narrowly circumscribed authority under the [Clean Air Act] in promulgating these standards, the enactment of S.J. Res. 37 could effectively prevent EPA from ever limiting mercury and air toxics pollution from power plants,” the White House said.

The Congressional Review Act is a mid-1990s law that has been used successfully just once to overturn a regulation.

EPA’s rule, finalized late last year, provides power plants three to four years to come into compliance — and, under certain very rare circumstances, a fifth year for some plants if power reliability issues arise.

Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) have floated a competing plan to delay compliance with the rules for several years without killing them, a measure that could give lawmakers political cover to oppose Inhofe’s resolution.

Inhofe, the top Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, last week criticized the Alexander-Pryor plan.

“What their bill would do is kill coal but do it in six years. Just changing the execution date doesn’t really do too much,” Inhofe told reporters.