Proposal to Handicap EPA's Regulation of Greenhouse Gases Evaporates in Senate

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans failed in their attempts to limit the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory authority over carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. While this is a short term victory for the Obama administration, the nature of the vote raises questions about the EPA's congressional support in the not so distant future. Republican leader Mitch McConnell (R., KY.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R., OK.), introduced an ambitious measure that would reject the EPA's finding that climate change is a threat to public health and welfare, and rein in the Obama administration's environmental policies. Ultimately the proposal failed 50-50 with only four Democrats joining the ranks of Republicans seeking to restrict the EPA's authority. A companion measure in the Republican-held House passed 255-172 the next day, but it faces a promised presidential veto. Senate Democratic leadership countered the Republican proposal with a handful of less comprehensive measures to restrict the EPA's plan of action. This tactic allowed moderate Democrats to cast votes against the EPA on proposals that were meant to be defeated, and provided them with the necessary political cover to eventually block the McConnell and Inhofe rider. In total, 17 Democratic Senators voted for at least one of the four measures, and a majority of the Senate is now on record supporting some type of restriction to the EPA's authority. Coupled with the passing of the doomed-yet-symbolic House bill that sought to nullify the EPA's scientific findings and resulting greenhouse gas regulations, the outlook for the Obama administration's climate policies may be cloudy. The EPA had taken the stance that greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to human health, and in 2009 began to assert its power under the Clean Air Act to set standards for power plants, refiners and other major emitters. But, with an additional 17 Democrats supporting the House measure, and the 2012 Campaign season fast approaching, one wonders if the White House will be able to rally the support needed to continue its climate initiatives.

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