By Jackie Weidman and Max Frankel
Today the Senate rejected another attempt to block vitally important public health safeguards. Forty-eight Democratic Senators and 5 Republican colleagues voted against Senator Jim Inhofe’s (R-OK) Congressional Review Act resolution, S.J. Res 37, which would have blocked the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard. Forty-one Republicans and 5 Democrats voted for it to stop the mercury protections.
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard, or MATS, was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency in December 2011. It would require steep reductions of mercury, lead, arsenic, and other toxic pollutants from coal-fired power plants, the largest domestic source of mercury emissions in the United States. These plants spew 53,510 pounds of mercury into the air each year. Mercury and other airborne toxics are linked to birth defects, brain damage, learning disabilities, cancer, and other serious ailments.
The 46 Senators who voted in favor of blocking these important health protections received over $12.5 million in direct campaign donations from the coal and utility industries throughout their congressional careers. The senators who voted against the resolution received just $4 million, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.
Senators who opposed mercury safeguards received an average of $273,500 in contributions, while supporters of protections received an average of $83,000 from the polluting companies. In other words, Senators who wanted to block clean air standards received over $3 in campaign cash for every $1 received by supporters. These contributions don’t include any donations to Super PACs that support them.
The opponents of S.J. Res 37 included Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV). He bravely spoke against it, and emphasized the rule’s public health benefits. He chastised his colleagues who “shrug off the advice of the American Academy of Pediatricians” by minimizing the Mercury and Air Toxics Standard’s health benefits.
Senator Rockefeller noted that West Virginians need “real world solutions to protect the future of coal.” and not a “foolish action [that] wastes time and money,” such as trying to stop public health protections.
Despite the failure of his resolution, Senator Inhofe vowed to continue his anti-health crusade. He said
“Our fight is not over: we will continue to do everything possible to expose what the Obama-EPA’s damaging regulatory regime will do to destroy jobs and weaken our economy, and work every day in our efforts to stop President Obama’s war on oil, gas and coal.”
Sen. Inhofe is badly mistaken – with $4 billion in annual tax breaks for big oil companies, and no reductions in carbon pollution from existing power plants, there is hardly a war on our fossil fuel energy supply. But, unfortunately, today 45 Senators joined Sen. Inhofe’s war on our children’s health.
Jackie Weidman is a Special Assistant with the Center for American Progress Energy Policy Team, and Max Frankel is an intern with CAP.
A correction has been made to Sen. David Vitter’s amount in coal contributions. The current post reflects the updated totals.