What: All Issues : Environment : Air Pollution : (S. 1) On an amendment to give power plants an exemption from the Clean Air Act to burn coal waste that remained after previous mining activities
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(S. 1) On an amendment to give power plants an exemption from the Clean Air Act to burn coal waste that remained after previous mining activities
senate Roll Call 9     Jan 21, 2015
Y = Conservative
N = Progressive
Winning Side:
Progressive

This vote was on an amendment that would have given power plants an exemption from the Clean Air Act to burn coal waste that remained after previous mining activities.

Sen. Pat Toomey (R-PA) offered the amendment during consideration of a bill authorizing construction of a controversial oil pipeline. Sen. Toomey’s amendment dealt with waste that had been left behind after coal-mining operations – in some cases, mining that took place in the 19th century. Sen. Toomey’s amendment would have allowed power plants to clean up these areas by burning the leftover waste, and without complying with the pollution restrictions that would normally apply under the Clean Air Act.

Supporters of Sen. Toomey’s amendment argued that it would provide a relatively cheap way to clean up dirty, dangerous coal waste sites. By burning the coal waste, the power plants would get it out of the soil and nearby streams, they said. This clean-up effort was important and merited the temporary exemption from air pollution restrictions, they said.

“These mountains of coal poison our water. They poison our air when they spontaneously combust and burn – sometimes for over a year – releasing pollutants with no controls whatsoever,” Sen. Toomey said. “A vote in favor of this amendment is a vote to continue to clean up this environmental disaster that we have on our hands.”

Opponents of Sen. Toomey’s amendment took issue with the idea of giving power plants a special exemption from air pollution laws. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) said lawmakers shouldn’t have to weaken environmental protections in order to protect the environment, calling the amendment an “attack on the Clean Air Act.”

“I do not know why we should give some power plants in Pennsylvania an exemption to the Clean Air Act,” Sen. Cantwell said. “Obviously, there are businesses all across America that have to comply with environmental laws. By voting against this amendment, we can continue to fight against these pollution issues and make sure that special interests are not getting another narrow carve-out in this legislation.”

Even though 54 senators voted in favor of Sen. Toomey’s amendment and only 45 voted “nay,” the amendment was defeated because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 51 Republicans and 3 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 42 Democrats and 3 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to give power plants an exemption from the Clean Air Act to burn coal waste that remained after previous mining activities.

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