Senate Votes to Block Obama’s Climate Change Rules

Source: By CORAL DAVENPORT, New York Times • Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said the regulations part were part of President Obama’s “war on coal.” Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times 

WASHINGTON — The Senate voted on Tuesday to block President Obama’s tough new climate change regulations, hoping to undermine his negotiating authority before a major international climate summit meeting in Paris this month.

The Senate resolution, which passed 52 to 46, would scuttle a rule that would significantly cut heat-trapping carbon emissions from existing coal-fired power plants. That Environmental Protection Agency rule, released in August, is the centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s efforts to address climate change. A second resolution, which also passed 52 to 46, would strike a related E.P.A. rule intended to freeze construction of future coal-fired power plants.

Three Democrats from states in which coal plays a major role in the economy, Senators Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, broke party ranks to vote in favor of the resolutions.

But three moderate Republicans, two up for re-election next year, Senators Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Mark S. Kirk of Illinois, as well as Senator Susan Collins of Maine, broke from their party to vote against the resolutions and back the environmental regulations.

If the resolutions reach the president’s desk, Mr. Obama has promised a veto.

“The resolution would impede efforts to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants — the largest source of carbon pollution in the country — when the need to act, and to act quickly, to mitigate climate change impacts on American communities has never been more clear,” officials at White House said in a statement.

But proponents believe their defiance will have diplomatic repercussions. At the summit meeting in Paris beginning Nov. 30 and sponsored by the United Nations, Mr. Obama will try to broker a historic accord that would commit every nation to policies to halt climate change. The strength of the American position at the talks lies in the enactment of the emission-curbing E.P.A. rule — the first major climate change policy put forth by the United States. By voting to block the rule, lawmakers want to telegraph to the world that Congress does not back the president’s climate pledges.

The House is expected to pass a companion resolution by early December, forcing a veto just as the negotiations in Paris are beginning.

“These regulations make it clearer than ever that the president and his administration have gone too far, and that Congress should act to stop this regulatory assault,” Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said in a statement. Mr. McConnell, whose home state is one of the nation’s largest coal producers, has led a multifront campaign to block what Republicans call Mr. Obama’s “war on coal.”

“Here’s what is lost in this administration’s crusade for ideological purity: the livelihoods of our coal miners and their families. Folks who haven’t done anything to deserve a ‘war’ being declared upon them,” he said.

Mr. McConnell has urged states not to comply with the rules, and in Tuesday’s Senate vote he invoked a law that is rarely used, the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which allows lawmakers to pass a resolution that would block enactment of new federal regulations within 60 days of their publication. The final rules were announced in August, but they were not published in the Federal Register until Oct. 23. The review act precludes a filibuster of a resolution, leaving it to a simple majority, not the 60 votes required to pass most legislation.

The 60-day time frame for Republicans to use the Congressional Review Act to undo a regulation will soon expire. But under a Republican president, Congress could enact other policies to slow or weaken the climate change regulations.

Much of any deal reached in Paris will rely on enactment of policies by future presidents. Many of the climate negotiators are working to build in a requirement that countries reconvene every five years to ensure enforcement of their domestic climate change plans. But all of the Republicans now running for president have pledged to block or undo Mr. Obama’s climate change policies.

Correction: November 17, 2015 
An earlier version of this article misstated the status of Senator Susan Collins of Maine. She is not up for re-election next year.