The U.S. Senate on Wednesday narrowly rejected a measure that would have overturned the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS), voting 46 to 53 to defeat the resolution introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.).

Senate Joint Resolution 37 (SJR 37) to curb the regulation also known as the Utility MACT rule was filed in February under the Congressional Review Act. That law provides for an expedited Senate floor procedure to overturn executive agency rules by a simple majority vote (51 votes). If passed by both chambers and signed into law, it would have effectively sent the rule back to the EPA to be rewritten under Congressional direction.

Five Senate Democrats—Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Joe Manchin (D-W.V.), Jim Webb (D-Va.), and Mark Warner (D-Va.)—supported the motion to proceed with consideration of the resolution. Five Republicans opposed the measure, including Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), and Scott Brown (R-Mass.) 

Sen. Alexander earlier last week said he would oppose the resolution because the EPA’s rule would contribute to the health of the state’s residents and slash polluting power plant emissions from neighboring states crossing into Tennessee. Sen. Alexander has introduced legislation with Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to extend the compliance deadline for power plant operators to install and operate "maximum achievable control technology" for mercury and other air toxics to 2018—not 2015 as is required by the final MATS rule.

Even if the resolution had cleared the Senate and the Republican-controlled House of Representatives, President Obama would have likely vetoed the measure. The White House issued a formal statement on Monday saying thwarting the MATS rule would “cause substantial harm to public health and undermine our nation’s longstanding commitment to clean up pollution from power plants.”

“The Mercury and Air Toxics Standards will ensure that the Nation’s power plants install modern, widely available technologies to limit harmful pollution — leveling the playing field for power plants that already have such controls in place,” the White House added.

Inhofe, who is also the ranking minority member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, said the Senate had debated his resolution over the past few months, giving those "most severely impacted by the Obama-EPA’s war on coal to have their voices heard in the Senate."

The debate had exposed what he called the EPA’s "reputation for abuse," he said, adding that though a majority of the Senate had "gone on record as wanting to rein in an out-of-control EPA, especially those from coal states, some chose not to stand with American families but with President Obama–and they are complicit in the millions of jobs that will be lost and the skyrocketing energy prices that will be forced on their constituents."
Sources: POWERnews, govtrack.us, Sen. James Inhofe
—Sonal Patel, Senior Writer, (@POWERmagazine)