Washington - The Senate voted Wednesday against a measure that would have blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from issuing new regulations on greenhouse gasses — a move that further cripples efforts by lawmakers to weaken the agency's regulatory authority.
The measure failed to net the 60 votes needed to pass and the vote, which was 50 for and 50 against, fell largely along party lines.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose home state of Kentucky relies heavily on coal production, and lawmakers from other mining and manufacturing states have often clashed with the administration over environmental policy.
McConnell, speaking on the Senate floor Wednesday, said his amendment "would give businesses the certainty that no unelected bureaucrat at the EPA is going to make their efforts to create jobs even more difficult than the administration already has."
McConnell's amendment was based on legislation by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. It advocates an outright block on the EPA's power to issue new regulations on greenhouse gases. The amendment, much like the Inhofe bill, would have overturned a scientific finding that heat-trapping gases from fossil fuels are changing the climate in ways that will be harmful to human health and the environment.
The finding was made by the EPA during the George W. Bush administration but was made public by the Obama administration. The finding is also in line with the consensus view of the vast majority of the world's climate experts, the National Academy of Sciences and similar top government science advisory groups in other countries.
Rep. Ed Whitfield, R-Ky., along with Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., have similar legislation in the House of Representatives, which is due for a vote Thursday. Though the Upton-Whitfield measure may pass the Republican-dominated House the legislation may not survive opposition in the other chamber.
Earlier this week, the Office of Management and Budget issued a statement regarding the Upton-Whitfield measure in the House, saying that if the president were presented with that legislation "his senior advisers would recommend that he veto the bill."
In a statement, the White House said Wednesday's Senate vote "rejected an approach that would have increased the nation's dependence on oil, contradicted the scientific consensus on global warming, and jeopardized America's ability to lead the world in the clean energy economy."
Several other similar measures in the Senate failed, including an amendment by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., which would have exempted smaller businesses and farms from new EPA greenhouse gas regulations. The EPA has said it has no plan to impose any carbon controls on farms and small businesses.
An amendment by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., which would have imposed a two-year delay on implementing greenhouse gas emission regulations, also failed.
Manufacturing and mining groups, such as the National Mining Association, that have been deeply critical of the EPA expressed disappointment over Wednesday's Senate vote.
"EPA's ill-considered regulation, if left unchallenged, will drive up electricity costs," National Mining Association president Hal Quinn said in a recent statement.
Health officials and environmental groups waded into the fray and applauded lawmakers who voted against measures that would weaken the EPA's regulatory authority.
"It's all about denying clear science," said David Doniger, climate policy director at the National Resources Defense Council. "Republicans have a lot of power to change the nation's laws, but they can't change the laws of nature."
The root of the tension goes back to partisan interpretations of a 2007 Supreme Court ruling, Massachusetts v. EPA, which held that the agency should regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Republicans often accuse the Obama administration of interpreting the ruling too broadly, while Democrats counter that it's sound science, not the EPA, that's guiding policy.
Court orders have also pushed the EPA to enforce some Clean Air Act amendments that Congress passed on a bipartisan basis in 1990. Under one such requirement, the EPA earlier last month proposed the first federal regulation of mercury from its largest source — coal-fired power plants.
"The American people support EPA's efforts to safeguard us from polluters, and I will continue to fight any effort to weaken the Clean Air Act," said Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.