Majority of Senate Votes to Kill Obama Climate Rules

By Anthony Adragna

Nov. 17 — More than half the Senate Nov. 17 voted to kill two regulations that are the centerpieces of President Barack Obama's efforts to combat climate change.

One resolution (S.J. Res. 24), offered under the Congressional Review Act, would immediately nullify the Clean Power Plan, which regulates carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants, and would prevent the Obama administration from ever promulgating a “substantially similar” regulation. The other resolution (S.J. Res. 23) would thwart a separate regulation setting carbon dioxide emissions limits for new and modified power plants with the same bar on a similar future rulemaking. 

Based on the 52-to-46 votes on both resolutions, the measures are well short of the support of the two-thirds of the chamber necessary to overcome promised vetoes from Obama.

Republicans and some coal-state Democrats said the efforts are necessary because the Environmental Protection Agency rules would devastate the nation's economy, harm electricity reliability and costs thousands of jobs. Republicans also said the measures send a signal to international climate negotiators—less than two weeks before they are due to convene in Paris—that the majority of Congress does not back Obama's approach to addressing climate change.

‘Sends Clear Message.'

“Passing this regulation will send a clear message to the world that a majority of the U.S. Congress does not stand behind the president's efforts to address climate change with economically catastrophic regulations,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-Ky.) said on the Senate floor. “Congress should pass this resolution and place this critical issue squarely on the president's desk. America's economic future is at stake here, and it is time to send a clear signal that enough is enough.”

The Senate action comes as the House prepares to advance its own measures (H.J. Res. 71 and H.J. Res. 72) to block the regulations. The full House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to advance companion resolutions from Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) on Nov. 18, and a full chamber vote is likely on those this month (219 ECR, 11/13/15).

Both EPA regulations were published in the Oct. 23 Federal Register (80 Fed. Reg. 64,510; 80 Fed. Reg. 64,662). The EPA's Clean Power Plan (RIN 2060-AR33) sets carbon dioxide emissions limits for the power sector in each state. The standards would be implemented by state regulators. The new source performance standards (RIN 2060-AQ91) set similar carbon dioxide emissions limits for new power plants.

Vetoes Threatened by White House

In two statements of administration policy, the White House—using stronger language than usual—confirmed Obama would veto both resolutions of disapproval should they reach his desk.

“Because S.J. Res. 24 threatens the health and economic welfare of future generations by blocking important standards to reduce carbon pollution from the power sector that take a flexible, common sense approach to addressing carbon pollution, if the President were presented with S.J. Res. 24, he would veto the bill,” the statement on the Clean Power Plan resolution said.

Most statements of administration policy say advisers would recommend Obama veto a bill, while the Nov. 17 documents said he unequivocally would do so.

Disapproving of the regulation of new and modified power plants would delay the transition to cleaner fuel sources while endangering public health, the second statement of administration policy said.

“The resolution could enable continued build-out of outdated, high-polluting, and long-lived power generation infrastructure and impede efforts to reduce carbon pollution from new and modified power plants—when the need to act, and to act quickly, to mitigate climate change impacts on American communities has never been more clear,” the statement said in reference to S.J. Res. 23.

The attacks on the EPA regulations come, in part, as an attempt to weaken the president's hand going into international negotiations toward an accord on climate change. But Senate Democrats vowed to uphold Obama's veto and predicted the efforts would have little impact as nearly 200 nations gather for United Nations talks.

“I don’t think there will be any cloud over the president’s authority in Paris,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a leading climate change advocate, told reporters.

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), another leading advocate of climate action, told Bloomberg BNA the Senate efforts were “not helpful” for the Paris talks but said the international community already understood Obama's efforts enjoyed significant support in Congress.

Other Senate Democrats said the vote raised the more fundamental question of whether senators believed carbon dioxide is a pollutant. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) said it would be a new litmus for those who deny climate change, saying the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to act to address carbon dioxide emissions.

The Clean Air Act “doesn’t authorize the EPA to regulate airborne pollutants as they see fit,” Schatz said. “It requires them to regulate all air pollutants.”

Some Party Defections

Three Democratic senators—Sens. Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.) and Joe Donnelly (Ind.)—bucked their party and supported the efforts to nullify the regulations.

Three Republicans—Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Kelly Ayotte (Maine)—voted against the efforts to undermine the EPA regulations. Two Republicans running for president, Sens. Marco Rubio (Fla.) and Lindsey Graham (S.C.), did not vote.

Before the vote, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce “strongly” urged senators to support both efforts to kill off the centerpieces of Obama's efforts to tackle climate change.

“The impact these rules will have on power prices means they will inevitably have negative implications extending to nearly every segment of the economy,” R. Bruce Josten, executive vice president of government affairs for the group, said in a letter Nov. 17.

Other groups also supportive of killing the EPA rules include the American Energy Alliance, Americans for Prosperity and the National Mining Association.

More than 110 environmental groups, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council and League of Conservation Voters, urged senators Nov. 16 to oppose the efforts to kill the regulations (220 ECR, 11/16/15).

Another Lawsuit Filed

Meanwhile, the West Virginia Coal Association became the latest interest group to challenge the Clean Power Plan in federal court. That lawsuit was filed Nov. 17 in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (West Virginia Coal Ass'n v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 15-1422, lawsuit filed 11/17/15).

Twenty-seven states, led by West Virginia, have filed similar lawsuits while 18 other states have come to the EPA's defense. No new states are expected to join the litigation at this point (West Virginia v. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 15-1363, 10/23/15).

To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Adragna in Washington at aadragna@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com