By: Susan Ferrechio
Senate Democrats on Wednesday were scrambling to defeat a GOP attempt to block the Environmental Protection Agency from imposing new climate-change regulations, but their ability to fend off the Republican attack may be waning.
Republicans are pledging to keep introducing their proposal, which would prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, even if Democrats defeat it this week. GOP lawmakers believe they are building enough support among Senate Democrats, particularly a dozen or more politically vulnerable moderates, to eventually reach the 60 votes needed to pass the measure.
The provision, entitled the "Energy Tax Prevention Act," was authored by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, and introduced this week by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as an amendment to a small-business bill.
A vote was expected late Wednesday or Thursday. The amendment will likely fail, but could show serious cracks in the Democrats' ability to protect the EPA regulations.
"Today was a wake-up call to my colleagues," Inhofe said when the amendment was introduced. "We have legislation before us to help keep energy prices affordable."
Momentum to block the EPA rules increased this week when the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved a proposal identical to Inhofe's.
During a hearing on the measure, House Energy and Power subcommittee Chairman Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., warned that the EPA "is moving so aggressively, not thinking about the consequences of jobs in America, the cost on people in America, the fact that it would make us less competitive in the global marketplace."
The House will take up the bill next month and since the GOP holds a 24-seat majority in that chamber, it will likely pass. House passage could motivate some Democrats and moderate Republicans in the Senate to back it.
Democratic support for the EPA-blocking measure had grown in the Senate to the point that party leaders postponed a vote on the provision originally scheduled for late Tuesday. Democrats offered their rank-and-file an alternative plan, introduced by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., that would delay the EPA regulations for two years rather than eliminate them entirely as the Republican measure would do.
The EPA is expected this year to begin issuing standards for power plants and oil refineries aimed at controlling greenhouse gas emissions, which are considered a form of pollution under the Clean Air Act. Critics of the new regulations say the EPA rules will significantly drive up energy costs, which will be passed along to consumers. The regulations would also kill jobs, they argued, by driving away businesses hampered by higher energy costs.
"If we are going to pass a law that increases the cost of energy in this country, then we are not going to have a level playing field with our competitors overseas," said Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.
Democratic opponents of the EPA-blocking amendment called it a step backwards and a rejection of the science behind global-warming theories.
"It's a stick-your-head-in-the-sand approach to an issue which future generations will look back on and say, what were they thinking?" Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., said.