This vote was on a motion to consider legislation overriding new Obama Administration regulations that require U.S. power plants to cut back on their emissions of toxic pollutants such as mercury.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) authored the legislation to overturn the pending Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations, which require power plants to ensure their pollution controls are up to date by 2015. The regulations are expected to help cut back on emissions of mercury and other pollutants that cause heart disease, asthma, and bronchitis, and lead to as many as 11,000 premature deaths annually, according to an EPA estimate.
Supporters of Sen. Inhofe’s legislation argued that the EPA regulations would harm economic growth. Rather than comply with the regulations, older power plants would simply shut down, leaving workers without jobs and driving up the cost of electricity, they argued.
“While this rule claims to be about public safety, it is a job-killing, ideologically driven attempt to cripple the coal industry in the United States, an industry that employs an awful lot of people, feeds a lot of families,” Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) said. “The president talks about being for an all-of-the-above energy policy. Yet his administration, through this regulation we seek to disapprove today, is going to effectively take one of those most abundant, low-cost sources of energy off the table for the American people.”
Opponents of Sen. Inhofe’s legislation argued that most power plants are already in compliance with the regulations. The power plants most affected will be the oldest, dirtiest ones, they said, and the cost of cutting back on those plants’ emissions will be more than offset by the benefits to public health.
“The technology exists to fix this problem. Fifty percent of the utilities have already applied the technology. It works. It is broadly deployed,” Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said. “There are tens of thousands of workers who wish to do this work. The idea that we have to choose between a stronger economy and a cleaner environment is a false choice. It has always been a false choice, and it is a false choice here today.”
The motion to consider Sen. Inhofe’s legislation was defeated by a vote of 46-53. Voting “yea” were 41 Republicans and 5 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 48 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 5 Republicans. As a result, the Senate defeated the effort to overturn new Obama Administration regulations that require coal-fired power plants to cut back on their emissions of toxic pollutants such as mercury.