Senate power-plant effort fails, but Wisconsin moving forward on clean energy

By: - October 21, 2019 11:34 am

Smokestacks (Creative Commons 3.0)

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Thursday rejected Democrats’ attempt to overturn a controversial Trump administration power plant regulation. 

Democrats forced a Senate floor vote on a resolution to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s power plant rule, which was seen as a weaker replacement for an Obama-era regulation to clamp down on power plants’ greenhouse gas emissions. 

U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.) voted for the resolution, while U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wisc.) voted against it.

“The Trump Administration walked away from a federal-state partnership to cut carbon pollution, and they have also taken a number actions to make things worse,” said Baldwin. “Our Wisconsin economy faces a growing threat from the climate crisis that demands action at the federal, state and local level. When Trump rolls back progress on efforts to reduce our carbon emissions, he is increasing the cost of the climate crisis at the state and local level.”

The effort was seen as largely symbolic, given that Democrats hold 45 seats in the chamber (two independent senators also caucus with the Democrats). The resolution required only a majority to pass, but it fell short by a vote of 41-53. 

Maine Sen. Susan Collins, who’s facing a tough re-election bid next year, was the only Republican who broke ranks to support the effort. Three Democrats — Sens. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Doug Jones of Alabama Joe Manchin of West Virginia — sided with most of the GOP in voting against the resolution.

Senate Democrats sought to force their Republican colleagues to go on the record backing a Trump rule that critics say falls short of what’s needed to combat climate change. 

“The Trump administration’s Dirty Power Scam comes at a time when Americans are demanding we take bold action to confront the climate crisis and it must be reversed,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last week when he announced the vote. 

Senate Republicans control the voting schedule in the chamber, but Democrats were able to force a vote using the Congressional Review Act. The law allows Congress to overturn federal agencies’ regulations within 60 days after a rule is finalized. A CRA vote can be placed on the Senate calendar by securing the signatures of 30 members. 

The Trump EPA regulation, dubbed the “Affordable Clean Energy” rule, was put forward as a replacement for President Barack Obama’s “Clean Power Plan.” The Obama measure was a centerpiece of the administration’s efforts to fight climate change and would have set national emission limits for coal-fired power plants. The Trump EPA argued that Obama’s approach was illegal, and gives states far more flexibility over cutting emissions, The New York Times reported in June when the rule was finalized. 

“The EPA has a congressionally mandated duty to protect the human health and the environment,” said Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who authored the resolution. “The EPA has abdicated its responsibility in promulgating this deeply flawed rule.” 

Tom Content of the Citizens Utility Board (CUB) of Wisconsin, which represents utility consumers, said the rule will probably not have a major effect on Wisconsin, where utilities are in the midst of a long-term transition away from coal and toward cleaner energy sources.

“Wisconsin’s major utilities are clearly already on a path to shutter coal plants and transition to cleaner energy sources like wind and solar,” Content said. “Depending on the company, these utilities are pledging to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 80% to 100% by 2050.” 

CUB’s role, Content added, “will be to try to limit cost impacts for customers as utilities seek to shed the plants they no longer want.”

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender

Robin Bravender was the States Newsroom Washington Bureau Chief from January 2019 until June 2020. She coordinated the network’s national coverage and reported on states’ congressional delegations, federal agencies, the White House and the federal courts. Prior to that, Robin was an editor and reporter at E&E News, a reporter at Politico, and a freelance producer for Reuters TV.