Bid to kill EPA coal plant regulations thwarted in Senate

Senate lawmakers on Wednesday blocked a GOP-led effort to scuttle Environmental Protection Agency regulations that mandate cuts in mercury pollution and other toxic emissions from coal-fired power plants.

The 46-53 vote against Sen. James InhofeJames InhofeOptimism rising for infrastructure deal Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate GOP senator: EPA 'brainwashing our kids' MORE’s (R-Okla.) resolution staves off what would have been a stinging election-year rebuke of the White House green agenda.

ADVERTISEMENT
Five Republicans joined 48 Democrats in blocking Inhofe’s measure to overturn regulations that coal industry groups and other critics contend will hurt the economy, cause power costs to spike and force numerous plants to shutter.

Sens. Kelly AyotteKelly AyotteFEC commissioner to Trump: Prove voter fraud Live coverage: Day three of Supreme Court nominee hearing Lewandowski saw no evidence of voter fraud in New Hampshire MORE (N.H.), Olympia Snowe (Maine), Susan CollinsSusan CollinsSenate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Overnight Finance: WH wants to slash billions | Border wall funding likely on hold | Wells Fargo to pay 0M over unauthorized accounts | Dems debate revamping consumer board Lawmakers call for pilot program to test for energy sector vulnerabilities MORE (Maine), Scott Brown (Mass.), and Lamar AlexanderLamar AlexanderThe Hill's 12:30 Report Price faces unwanted task of administering ObamaCare Overnight Regulation: Trump's Labor nominee hints at updating overtime rule MORE (Tenn.) opposed Inhofe's plan. Democratic Sens. Mary LandrieuMary LandrieuMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Five unanswered questions after Trump's upset victory Pavlich: O’Keefe a true journalist MORE (La.), Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate braces for fallout over Supreme Court fight Overnight Cybersecurity: First GOP lawmaker calls for Nunes to recuse himself | DHS misses cyber strategy deadline | Dems push for fix to cellphone security flaw Lawmakers call for pilot program to test for energy sector vulnerabilities MORE (W.Va.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Mark WarnerMark WarnerTop Senate Intel Dem: Nunes's meeting on WH grounds 'more than suspicious' Sunday shows preview: Aftermath of failed healthcare bill Devin Nunes has jeopardized the oversight role of Congress MORE (Va.), and Jim Webb (Va.) joined most Republicans in supporting Inhofe's failed proposal.

“A substantial amount of the electricity we produce in the country comes from coal. And this new regulation would devastate the jobs that depend on this cheap, abundant resource,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellScarborough: Bannon trying to ‘help his falling standing’ in WH Hatch: I may retire if Romney runs to replace me How the GOP’s ‘Access to Care’ bill cuts down states’ rights MORE (R-Ky.) on the Senate floor Wednesday ahead of the vote.

But backers of the rules say the claims of economic harm are vastly overblown, and argue that planned coal-plant closures stem from an array of factors, including competition from low-cost natural gas.

They point to projections of major public health benefits from the regulation. EPA estimates that the air toxics standards will prevent 11,000 premature deaths, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 cases of childhood asthma per year, among other benefits.

EPA projects the value of the health benefits — stemming from reducing air toxics as well as sulfur dioxide and fine particulate matter — could reach $90 billion per year. The rule will have estimated costs of $9.6 billion annually, according to EPA.

The White House threatened to veto Inhofe’s plan on Monday.

“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.

The White House action illustrates President Obama’s collision with Mitt Romney on EPA rules, including the so-called maximum achievable control technology (MACT) standards for coal plants.

Romney, the presumptive GOP White House nominee, criticized the EPA rule but did not comment directly on Inhofe’s resolution.

“Governor Romney has made clear that he opposes the Utility MACT, which costs more than $1,500 for every one dollar reduction in mercury pollution,” said Romney spokeswoman Andrea Saul.

Earlier in the day Sen. Roy BluntRoy BluntRepublicans seek to lower odds of a shutdown Overnight Finance: WH wants to slash billions | Border wall funding likely on hold | Wells Fargo to pay 0M over unauthorized accounts | Dems debate revamping consumer board Border wall funding likely to be put on hold MORE (R-Mo.) said that the EPA regulation is an example of Obama ignoring Congress.

"His administration has bypassed the Congress, bypassed the will of the people, and they're clearly trying to do by regulation what I believe the Congress would never do," Blunt said.

In a floor speech Wednesday, Manchin expressed support for Inhofe's resolution ahead of the vote, splitting with Sen. Jay RockefellerJay RockefellerObama to preserve torture report in presidential papers Lobbying world Overnight Tech: Senators place holds on FCC commissioner MORE (D-W.Va.) who strongly opposed it.

"From the day I arrived in the Senate I've been determined to stop the EPA's job-killing agenda, and this resolution of disapproval takes an important step to rein in this out of control agency," Manchin said.

The vote marks the second time in recent months that Senate lawmakers have defeated resolutions brought under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn an EPA power plant rule.

In November the Senate turned back Sen. Rand PaulRand PaulTrump: 'No doubt' we'll make a deal on healthcare Overnight Defense: General says US strike probably led to civilian deaths | Tillerson to push NATO on spending | Trump taps F-35 chief Senate backs Montenegro's NATO membership MORE’s (R-Ky.) CRA resolution to nullify the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule, which requires curbs in smog and particulate-forming pollution from plants in 27 states in the eastern half of the country.

The CRA is a mid-1990s law that allows Congress to nullify final agency regulations but has been used successfully just once.

Resolutions under the CRA are immune from filibuster, but it’s a blunt instrument, forcing lawmakers to vote on whether they want to nullify pollution standards rather than just modify regulations.

Inhofe’s measure was likely harmed by a proposal by Alexander and Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.) that would extend the compliance period for EPA’s air toxics rule by several years without nullifying it — a plan that gave some lawmakers cover to oppose Inhofe.