Series of votes show desire to curb EPA power to regulate

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WASHINGTON -- Though they failed to pass anything, a series of Senate votes Wednesday were the most visible sign yet of a bipartisan desire to curb the power of the Environmental Protection Agency.

A bill to block the agency from regulating greenhouse gases came to a 50-50 tie, short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster, though the EPA's critics pointed to votes on three other measures to limit its authority regarding carbon emissions. In all, 64 senators voted on at least one proposal to stymie the agency.

Among the 17 Senate Democrats who supported one of the proposals to restrict the EPA was Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.

He chose to back an effort by Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., that would delay the EPA from implementing greenhouse gas regulations for two years.

In a statement, Mr. Casey cast the vote as a happy medium to protect jobs and clean air. The environmental lobby saw it differently.

"Sen. Casey voted for polluters and against the public health of Pennsylvanians," said Adam Garber, an organizer for PennEnvironment who traveled to Washington last month to lobby Mr. Casey on the issue. "We're pretty upset."

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., voted to ban the agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

In 2009, the EPA ruled that greenhouse gases pose a danger to human health because they cause global warming, and announced its intent to regulate them under the Clean Air Act. The agency's critics argue that the Obama administration is seeking to impose a cap-and-trade regime, in which companies swap pollution credits, through regulation after Congress failed to pass a climate-change bill.

Big business has been stridently against the EPA's potential action and claimed that potential new carbon regulations would cause them to shed jobs while energy prices rise.

"Today is another step toward victory for American consumers who can't afford EPA's unnecessary regulations that could raise the cost of the energy and destroy jobs," Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, said in a statement.

Environmental groups and most Democrats, meanwhile, say the EPA is simply enforcing a vital law and cite the myriad benefits of the Clean Air Act, including cutting down on asthma cases from polluted air.

They fear that even a short delay on new regulation will become indefinite.

Some on the pro-EPA side claimed victory because all the Senate proposals failed. The National Resources Defense Council president stated that the Senate "turned back a wave of assaults on clean air and health," while White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said, "The administration is encouraged by the Senate's actions today."

Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla, was also encouraged, though for very different reasons. The chief anti-EPA soldier among the Republicans and leading critic of global-warming science said he plans to bring back his proposal in another form.

The House, which debated and amended the bill on the floor Wednesday, is expected to pass a bill easily this week that would mirror Mr. Inhofe's goal of banning the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases.

Mr. Inhofe said he wasn't willing to trade down to the less-harsh proposals offered by Democrats -- including proposals to exempt small business and farmers from regulation or to delay the EPA's even studying new regulations for two years -- and intended instead to mirror the House.

"I think that they're going to have to [reconsider] the closer they get to re-election time," he said.


Daniel Malloy: dmalloy@post-gazette.com or 202-445-9980. Follow him on Twitter at PG_in_DC.


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