Senate defeats bid to block EPA power plant rule

Friday, June 15, 2012, Vol. 36, No. 24

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Democrat-controlled Senate defeated a bid Wednesday to block the Environmental Protection Agency from setting the first federal standards to reduce toxic air pollution from power plants.

Republicans were behind the effort, but they didn't get enough votes to move ahead. It was the second time in this Congress that Senate Republicans failed to muster a majority to scrap a rule aimed at curbing air pollution from primarily coal-fired power plants.

The measure would have overturned a long-overdue regulation to slash mercury and other toxic emissions from the oldest and most polluting oil- and coal-fired power plants. Since 1990, the EPA has had that power, and in 2000 concluded that such action was necessary.

But it wasn't until late last year that the Obama administration approved new regulations, after a court threw out an attempt by the Bush administration to exempt power plants from such controls. President Barack Obama, in a video released at the time, said his administration had had enough of the decades of delays caused by special interests.

In a veto threat this week, the White House said the GOP attempt, if successful, could have prevented the government from ever controlling toxic power plant pollution.

Power plants are the largest remaining source of manmade mercury in the environment. Mercury is a toxic metal that's known to impair brain development in children, including those exposed in the womb.

Republicans argued unsuccessfully that the benefits of the regulation did not outweigh rising electricity bills, the lost jobs from power plants shutting down, and its nearly $10 billion per year cost. They portrayed the regulation as an effort by the EPA to kill coal, which is responsible for nearly half of U.S. electricity production. But changing economics, such as low natural gas prices and reduced electricity demand, are big factors in older coal-fired power plants shutting down.

"If you vote against this ... you are effectively killing coal in America," said Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., the sponsor of the bid.

The 46-53 vote was four short of the 50 needed to proceed to a vote on the resolution. Five Republicans voted against moving ahead, but five Democrats sided with Republicans in support of it.