Environmentalists scored a rare and unexpected victory Friday in the conservative-dominated Congress as the House narrowly voted to uphold the power of the Environmental Protection Agency to enforce many major anti-pollution regulations.
The House voted 212-206 to kill a far-reaching effort to rein in EPA power following a confrontation that laid bare deep divisions between the moderate and conservative wings of the Republican Party. Fifty-one Republicans, most of them moderates, voted to uphold EPA’s regulatory power, dealing a surprising defeat to conservative Republicans who have dominated the House on most issues this year.
House Republican leaders likely will force another vote on the EPA provisions included in an appropriations bill - early next week. They also said the outcome was not a final verdict on their broader commitment to roll back government regulations.
But some conceded that the defeat was a sign they had overreached in the politically popular area of environmental protection.
“The bill may have gone too far,” said Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who said that GOP leaders may propose a more limited regulatory rollback when they revisit the issue next week. Failure to find an acceptable compromise could threaten passage of the entire appropriations bill, which is a major part of the GOP effort to scale back the size and scope of government.
The effort to curtail EPA powers was contained in 17 provisions that would have prevented the EPA from enforcing regulations affecting wetland protection, auto emission inspections, drinking water standards and other provisions of anti-pollution law. Defeat of the provisions was hailed by environmentalists, who have fought many losing battles in the House this year.
“This victory makes it clear that the special interest forces have underestimated the political strength behind environmental and health protection laws in our country,” said Greg Wetstone, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.