Senate votes to kill climate rules; Obama promises vetoes

Source: Amanda Reilly, E&E reporter • Posted: Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Senate yesterday voted for two resolutions that would kill U.S. EPA’s carbon rules for power plants, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s climate change agenda.

Both the resolution to block the Clean Power Plan for existing power plants and the resolution to block the agency’s rule for new power plants passed by a vote of 52-46.

Three Republicans — Sens. Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire, Susan Collins of Maine and Mark Kirk of Illinois — voted against the resolutions. Sens. Joe Donnelly of Indiana, Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia were the only Democrats to vote in favor of the resolutions, which were cast under the Congressional Review Act.

Republican presidential candidates Sens. Marco Rubio of Florida and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina were the only members of the Senate who did not cast a vote.

The Obama administration has threatened to veto both resolutions, and yesterday’s tally in the Senate signals that opponents of the rules will not have enough votes to overturn a veto.

But opponents of the carbon rules are hoping to send a message to the international community ahead of climate negotiations that begin in Paris on Nov. 30 that Congress is not on board with the Obama administration’s climate change agenda.

Through the Clean Power Plan, EPA is requiring states to develop plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. EPA issued a separate rule to stem CO2 emissions from new or modified power plants.

Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) and Heitkamp sponsored S.J. Res. 24 to kill the Clean Power Plan, while Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Manchin introduced the resolution, S.J. Res. 23, targeting EPA’s rule to reduce CO2 emissions from new and modified power plants.

Of the three Republicans who voted to keep the plan in place, Ayotte and Kirk are part of a recently formed Republican working group on environment and energy issues.

Ayotte, who is in a tough re-election battle with New Hampshire Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, last month publicly announced that she was in favor of the Clean Power Plan. Kirk, though, was the target of an aggressive campaign by environmentalists after reports surfaced that he was planning to vote in favor of the resolutions. He is also vulnerable next year.

After the vote, Collins touted Maine’s actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. She said she was concerned that global warming was adding to pollution-linked asthma issues and a higher incidence of lime disease as ticks’ habitats shift to the north.

“I believe the EPA should proceed in this area,” she said. “I don’t think that the regulations are perfect, and I’m still concerned about the treatment of biomass as renewable energy.”

Democrats Donnelly, Heitkamp and Manchin are generally supportive of policies that benefit the fossil fuels industry. In a floor statement before the vote, Heitkamp said she was worried that the rule would be too much of a leap for utilities to achieve.

“We have created an incredible level of uncertainty for utilities in this country,” she said.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman James Inhofe (R-Okla.) yesterday accused the Obama administration of attempting to use regulations to pass a cap-and-trade program that Congress rejected during President Obama’s first term.

He said that the roll call vote on the CRA was important because it put senators on the record of either supporting or objecting to the administration’s climate agenda and that members “of a liberal nature” would be forced to account for their votes back home.

“The CRA is there so that a person cannot tell the people at home that he’s opposed to regulations he’s really supporting,” Inhofe said.

The resolutions would also prevent EPA from putting in place similar regulations in the future.

Several Democrats yesterday slammed the Republican majority for wasting time on the resolutions when it is highly unlikely they would be enacted into law.

In an official statement of administration policy, the White House yesterday said that both resolutions would “undermine the public health protections of the Clean Air Act (CAA) and stop critical U.S. efforts to reduce dangerous carbon pollution from power plants.”

With the votes in the Senate, action on the resolutions will now shift to the House. The House Energy and Commerce Committee today will vote on the two resolutions and is expected to send them to the lower chamber floor on party-line votes.

“The president’s getting ready to go to France next month, where he’ll be coronated the one person more concerned about climate change than any other person in the world,” Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.), chairman of the Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Energy and Power and the House sponsor of the resolutions, said yesterday. “And we all recognize that the climate is changing, but there are more pressing issues.”

But the full House likely won’t vote on the measures until after Thanksgiving, after the climate negotiations begin.