WASHINGTON – The Obama administration and its Senate allies beat back a months-long effort by congressional Republicans to strip the Environmental Protection Agency of its ability to regulate greenhouse gases, the heat-trapping emissions most scientists believe is the main contributor to global climate change.
The votes were the culmination of efforts in both chambers of Congress over the last few months to cut back on the EPA’s regulatory powers.
The efforts focus on limiting EPA’s program to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and more recently, stationary sources such as power plants and oil refineries, the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.
The Republican-controlled House is expected to pass a much more stringent bill today that would permanently strip the EPA of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases. But its companion version, sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla., and backed by most big business lobbies, failed in the Senate by a vote of 50-50, which effectively dooms the House legislation. Sixty votes were required to overcome the possibility of a filibuster.
“It’s clear the Senate rejected efforts to tie the hands of the EPA to limit life-threatening pollution,” said Franz Matzner, climate and air legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Every day that goes by, we see that the choice between jobs and healthy lungs is a false choice.”
But Republicans described greenhouse gas regulation as a threat to the economy.
“EPA regulation of carbon is the worst possible outcome and a disaster in the making,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C. “The EPA will put burdens on consumers and businesses they cannot handle. It has long been clear to me that elected representatives should write the rules, not the EPA.”
In focusing on the EPA, the GOP is probing what they hope will be an effective 2012 campaign narrative: that the agency is a job-killing bureaucracy, the abiding proof of the Obama administration’s purported indifference to the needs of business and average Americans.
The Republican charge on EPA put Democrats on the defensive, leading them to draft three less draconian bills to limit the agency in order to protect at least a dozen senators who will face tough re-election battles next year. None of those bills got more than 12 votes. Four Democrats voted for the McConnell/Inhofe bill that would have gutted EPA’s authority entirely, including Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. One Republican, Susan Collins of Maine, voted against the McConnell bill.
The EPA’s opponents could find other ways to hamstring the agency legislatively. But for the time being, the agency has some breathing room to keep regulating greenhouse gases.