The largely symbolic votes, which have prompted strong resistance from environmental groups, took place on Tuesday evening after debate and speeches throughout the day.
There were two related resolutions under consideration. One, advanced by Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), was a resolution of disapproval, under the Congressional Review Act, saying that the Clean Power Plan “shall have no force or effect.” The bill has 48 co-sponsors, including Democrats Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota and Joe Manchin of West Virginia. The measure passed Tuesday evening:
The second, sponsored by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), would similarly disapprove of and repeal a rule governing emissions from new power plants. It also relies on the Congressional Review Act, which lets the body review major regulations issued by executive agencies and, potentially, block them. It passed by exactly the same margin.
The twin votes were unlikely to actually hobble the Clean Power Plan or other power plant regulations — the White House promptly announced Tuesday Obama would veto the resolutions. But they sent a strong message of resistance at a time when Obama, having just rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline, is trying to project climate leadership just weeks before a crucial summit in Paris.
Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Capito invoked a “war on coal” and called the Clean Power Plan “the most expensive environmental regulation that the EPA has ever proposed on our nation’s power sector.”
Democrats had objected to the vote and, particularly, its timing.
“We are not here on the floor to discuss national security. We are here on the floor right now because the Republican leadership is taking a run at the president’s Clean Power Plan,” said Rhode Island Democratic Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse in a Senate floor speech earlier Tuesday, objecting to the planned votes. “Paris has not recovered from the devastation of the other day, and we have important bills…that would improve the capacity of our Department of Justice, of our FBI, of our Department of Homeland Security to address these threats. And are we on those bills? No.”
In announcing that Obama would veto the resolution opposing the Clean Power Plan, the White House noting that “by nullifying the Clean Power Plan, S.J.Res. 24 seeks to block progress towards cleaner energy, eliminating public health and other benefits of up to $54 billion per year by 2030, including thousands fewer premature deaths from air pollution and tens of thousands of fewer childhood asthma attacks each year.”
The overall message is that as Obama and his negotiators head to Paris for COP-21, there is considerable resistance at home to the key policy by which the U.S. itself promises to reduce emissions.
But then, the world already knew that. It has been a major theme throughout many years of international climate negotiations.
“I think they’re trying to create confusion and uncertainty before the international climate agreement is finalized, and it’s not going to work,” said Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz of Hawaii of the votes. “They have had success in the past in muddying the waters, but we are in a different place now in terms of the international participation, in terms of domestic political support for clean energy, and in terms of having a real clean energy program in America.”
“The outcome is certain from a legislative standpoint, but I think they’re just hoping that they can make it seem as though this can be undone, and simply put, it cannot,” said Schatz.
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