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Senate Rejects Bid To Kill Mercury Regulation

EPA rule that mandates coal-fired power plants to monitor emissions remains intact, but the Senate is divided over the issue

by Jeff Johnson
June 22, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 26

By a 53 to 46 vote, last week the Senate rejected Sen. James M. Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) resolution to kill an EPA rule requiring coal-fired power plants to install pollution controls to reduce mercury and other toxic air emissions. Inhofe argued his resolution would “rein in an out-of-control EPA” and limit President Barack Obama’s “war on coal.”

The Inhofe vote sharply split the Senate and will likely be an election-year theme. For instance, Democratic Party senators from coal state West Virginia took opposite sides. Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV voted no, calling the resolution a “foolish action” that hurts human health and wastes time and money that could be better spent on clean-coal investments. But Sen. Joseph Manchin III supported Inhofe, saying the regulation would “put thousands of hardworking Americans out of a job in the worst economy in generations.”

The President has pledged to veto the resolution if it makes it to his desk.

The mercury regulation is required under the 1990 Clean Air Act and is directed at old coal-fired power plants, which produce about half of the U.S.’s mercury air emissions. Industrial sources have cut mercury emissions, as have newer coal-fired power plants since the act passed with the backing of nearly all of the then-members of Congress and Republican President George H. W. Bush. For 22 years, electric utilities and the coal industry have fought the mercury provisions.

Utilities will have until 2015 to implement the mercury rule, but legislation to delay implementation until 2018 is also before the Senate, and a vote is expected shortly.



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