President Obama got an implicit green light Wednesday to go ahead with writing new environmental rules to limit greenhouse gases, after the Senate failed to pass any one of four separate proposals designed to tie the administration’s hands.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, nevertheless said the votes don’t bode well for Mr. Obama, arguing that when the four votes are taken together, “an overwhelming bipartisan majority” supported some restrictions on the Environmental Protection Agency’s authority.
But for now, the sides have been unable to coalesce around a single plan, and so Mr. Obama retains the ability to go ahead with regulating greenhouse gases using the authority he already has under the Clean Air Act.
“The administration is encouraged by the Senate’s actions today to defend the Environmental Protection Agency’s ability to protect public health under the Clean Air Act,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said after the vote. “By rejecting efforts to roll back EPA’s common-sense steps to safeguard Americans from harmful pollution, the Senate also rejected an approach that would have increased the nation’s dependence on oil, contradicted the scientific consensus on global warming and jeopardized America’s ability to lead the world in the clean-energy economy.”
In the key test, the Senate divided equally on a 50-50 vote on a Republican amendment that would have prevented EPA from using existing laws to curb greenhouse-gas emissions. Under Senate rules for the bill, the amendment needed 60 votes to be adopted.
Three other Democratic amendments to impose less-stringent controls on the EPA all fell well short of passage. The most popular of those Democratic amendments - which still only garnered 12 votes - would have delayed EPA’s authority for two years.
Republicans saw a future victory in putting the pieces together.
“Altogether, more than 60 senators voted in favor of four amendments that, to one degree or another, would restrain the EPA’s power to regulate carbon emissions from farmers, manufacturers and power plants,” Mr. McConnell said after the vote, vowing to push the Senate to vote again.
The Republican-controlled House, meanwhile, was debating a bill Wednesday night that did contain heavy restrictions on EPA. Leaders said the measure is expected to pass later this week.
Environmentalists took heart from the Senate’s stalemate.
“The Senate today turned back a wave of assaults on clear air and health, but as the continued overreach in the House shows, this fight is far from over,” said Natural Resources Defense Council President Frances Beinecke.
Still, Republican strategist and energy lobbyist Michael McKenna said the Hill votes show there is substantial support for restraining Mr. Obama. And he said lawmakers will choose another bill to try to get an agreement that all of the EPA opponents can support.
“If it’s not going to happen today in the Senate, it’s going to happen on the debt ceiling or somewhere else,” he said. “In the last half-hour we learned that more than 60 percent of the Senate do not think that EPA should regulate greenhouse gases without some specific direction from Congress.”