The Senate voted 46-53 on Wednesday to reject a resolution to repeal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards aimed at reducing the amount of toxic pollution emitted from coal burning power plants.
Sen. James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) gathered 29 other senators to sponsor the failed resolution to repeal the EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (MATS) under the Congressional Review Act. Had the repeal been successful, the EPA may have been forbidden from introducing similar pollution limits in the future, according to the White House, which threatened to veto the resolution.
Inhofe has said the Obama administration has a "radical green agenda" and is waging a "war on coal" with expensive regulations that may force some older power plants to shut down and lay off workers.
The EPA, however, says MATS will create thousands of jobs and prevent even more heart attacks, child asthma cases and premature deaths each year.
"Despite fear mongering by the coal industry, some utilities and their allies, the Senate has rejected an irresponsible effort to repeal mercury and air toxics protections that are backed by science and required by law," said John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "The House Republican leadership should take note and cease its efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act; efforts the public does not support."
MATS will require many of the nation's coal burning power plants to update or install pollution controls such as smoke stack scrubbers to reduce the amount of air pollution emitted into the air when coal is burned to create electricity. The rules will also level the playing field for power plants that are already using such technology.
MATS are the first federal standards for coal burning power plants to be put in place since major Clean Air Act amendments were passed in 1990. The rules were tied up in legal battles for years as the coal and utilities industries resisted federal efforts to regulate toxic air pollution.
The EPA estimates that, once implemented, the MATS standards will prevent 130,000 child asthma cases, 11,000 premature deaths and 4,700 heart attacks annually. The agency also estimates the pollution control technology updates at power plants will create 46,000 short-term construction jobs and 8,000 long-term utility jobs.