The Senate approved two resolutions Tuesday to stop the EPA from implementing the Clean Power Plan, a rule that limits the amount of carbon allowed from the electricity sector.
If — or more likely when — the resolutions reach his desk, President Obama will veto them, making Tuesday’s vote obviously symbolic, even to the senators participating. A combined version of the resolutions, which apply separately to new power plants and existing ones, is already being considered in the House.
Tuesday’s resolutions, introduced under the Congressional Review Act, were approved 52-46, largely down party lines. Democrats Joe Donnelly (IN), Heidi Heitkamp (ND) and Joe Manchin III (WV) assented. Republicans Kelly Ayotte (NH) and Mark Kirk (IL), two of a group of four Republicans who have pledged to tackle climate change, dissented, along with Susan Collins (ME). Lamar Alexander (R-TN), the third member of the group, voted yes to the resolutions, and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the fourth member of the group, wasn’t present for the vote. Nor was Graham’s fellow presidential candidate Marco Rubio (R-FL).
“This will never become law. It is just a big exercise in time-wasting,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) said during the hearing leading up to the first vote. He said he thought the Senate was considering the resolutions in order to “send a signal. To send a signal to the big coal interests, the big oil interests, the Koch brothers, the Tea Partiers, ‘We’re with ya.'”
The Clean Power Plan, developed under the Clean Air Act, requires states to implement plans to reduce carbon from the electricity sector through tactics like increasing efficiency and adding clean energy. It is broadly opposed by coal interests. But numerous polls have found that American voters — including Republicans — broadly favor reducing carbon emissions from power plants. New data from the Sierra Club this week found that voters in several states are more likely to vote for a candidate who supports the Clean Power Plan, and they trust the EPA more than Congress when it comes to pollution.
“The American people aren’t ‘with ya,'” Whitehouse told his colleagues.
In fact, the vote can be seen as a dividing line between the people who think catastrophic climate change is something that we as a nation and a people want to avoid, and those who think otherwise. The rule is considered a critical component of the administration’s attempts to be a global leader on climate action and is expected to decrease the nation’s dependence on coal power.
But the administration and the public are up against a challenging Senate. At the beginning of the year, more than half of the Senate did not accept the idea of human-caused climate change.
Some on Tuesday questioned why the Senate was taking the time to even consider the resolutions — a political debate raged over how to respond to the Paris attacks and appropriations bills sat stagnant. Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) pointed out that there is “no way” the resolution would lead to overturning the Clean Power Plan and offered his own rationale for it being on the floor.
“It is designed to create confusion, to kick up dust, and to raise the possibility that the American government does not stand behind the Clean Power Plan as we go into the final throes of the Paris climate talks,” Schatz said.
But Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (KY) appealed to economic concerns.
“The Obama Administration is trying to impose deeply regressive energy regulations that would eliminate good-paying jobs, punish the poor, and make it even harder for Kentuckians to put food on the table,” said McConnell, who has vociferously criticized efforts to reduce carbon emissions.
“Their effect on the global carbon levels: essentially a rounding error. Their effect on poor and middle-class families: potentially devastating,” he said.
To the contrary, a report from Public Citizen released this week found that the Clean Power Plan would lower electricity prices in all states. Residents in McConnell’s home state of Kentucky would save about $100 a year on electricity, the authors found. Other studies have also found savings. The Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a nine-state cap-and-trade mechanism, similar to plans that can be used to meet the requirements of the rule, has already lowered homeowner costs.
In addition to the resolutions that would halt the Clean Power Plan, 26 states have filed lawsuits against the rule.
But as with Congress’ challenge, there seems to be a disconnect between representation and the represented. A Yale study found that the majority of voters in the states that are suing to throw out the rule actually support it. Another poll by the League of Conservation voters found that across the entire country, seven out of 10 voters want their state to comply with the rule.
“The states suing to block the Clean Power Plan are acting against the financial interests of their own residents,” David Arkush, author of Public Citizen’s pricing report, said. “These states are looking out for big polluters and dirty power companies instead of working families who can’t afford higher electricity bills.”
To no avail, environmental, religious, and minority groups all called on members of the Senate to reject the resolution.