GOP seeks to punish vulnerable Senate Dems on EPA vote

Republicans hope to translate a legislative defeat into a political victory by bashing vulnerable Senate Democrats who voted Wednesday to uphold Environmental Protection Agency rules that force pollution cuts from coal-fired power plants.

GOP candidates gunning to take down Democrats including Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Bob Casey Jr. (Pa.) and Jon Tester (Mont.) quickly took aim at the lawmakers’ votes to maintain rules that Republicans call economically harmful.

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Rep. Denny Rehberg’s (R-Mont.) campaign claimed Tester “today showed his support for the Obama Administration's job-killing agenda.” The campaign of John Brunner, the businessman who hopes to emerge as McCaskill’s general-election opponent, similarly pounced, claiming the rule will “severely harm” the economy of coal-dependent Missouri.

“With coal generating more than 80% of Missouri’s electricity needs, this new EPA regulation would undoubtedly increase electric rates on Missourians and threaten our jobs,” Brunner’s campaign said. Casey’s and Brown’s opponents offered similar statements.

McCaskill and Tester are among the most vulnerable Democrats in the chamber — both contests are a “toss-up” in The Hill’s race ratings. The same ratings list Brown’s contest as “leaning Democratic,” while Casey’s seat is “likely” to remain in Democrats’ hands.

The Senate, in a 46-53 vote Wednesday, blocked Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) plan to scuttle EPA rules that force cuts in mercury and other air toxics from coal-fired power plants.

But the vote didn’t break along entirely partisan lines, as four Northeastern Republicans and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) voted against Inhofe’s plan, while five Democrats voted with Inhofe and other Republicans.

Backers of the rules call the claims of economic harm badly overblown, and say the rule will yield massive public health benefits once companies come into compliance in coming years.

A White House spokesman emphasized that several Republicans crossed the aisle in backing the rules.

“Today, a bipartisan group of Senators stood with President Obama supporting sensible steps to reduce dangerous pollution that threatens the health of families and children,” said White House spokesman Clark Stevens.

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