The Senate voted Tuesday to block key pillars of President Barack Obama’s climate change agenda.
In a 52 to 46 vote, the Senate passed a resolution of disapproval, striking down the Environmental Protection Agency’s rules on carbon pollution from existing power plants that require existing power plants to cut carbon emissions 32 percent by 2030. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) exercised a rarely used legislative tool to block the administration’s landmark climate change regulations. Under the Congressional Review Act, the resolution only needed a simple majority threshold to pass the Senate, which was easily reached with Republican votes.
But three Democrats joined Republicans in voting against the regulation. A number of centrist Democrats have been vocal in their opposition to the president's regulations aimed at fighting climate change.
Three Republicans, Sens. Kelly Ayotte (N.H.), Mark Kirk (Ill.) and Susan Collins (Maine), voted against the resolution. Ayotte and Kirk are up for reelection in 2016.
McConnell teed up a second resolution to bar another EPA regulation on new source performance standards, which set similar carbon emissions restrictions for new power plants. That passed in a 52 to 46 vote as well.
"Tonight, the U.S. Senate voted to stand up for middle-class Americans, and specifically our hard working Kentucky coal miners and their families, by voting to overturn the Obama administration’s deeply regressive energy regulations that would eliminate good-paying jobs, punish the poor, and make it even harder for Kentuckians to put food on the table," McConnell said.
The White House issued a stronger veto threat than normal in response to the effort, outright stating that if the president were presented with the resolutions, "he would veto the bill." Administration officials usually use language saying they would "recommend" the president to veto an unfavorable piece of legislation.
"The resolution would impede efforts to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants -- the largest source of carbon pollution in the country -- when the need to act, and to act quickly, to mitigate climate change impacts on American communities has never been more clear," the administration statement said of the one against the regulation on existing power plant.
Two-thirds of both congressional chambers would need to support the resolutions in order to override Obama, an effort that will likely fall flat given past voting records.
McConnell first filed the resolution under the Review Act, which allows Congress to block regulations from the executive branch, a month ago. Republicans are vehemently opposed to the president's carbon pollution regulations, arguing they would jack up electricity costs and hurt coal-reliant states.
"With the passage of these resolutions, Congress is saying 'enough is enough,'" said Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who voted with Republicans to pass the two measures.
Roughly 24 states have sued the administration over the finalized rules on emissions from existing power plants.
The regulation on existing power plants is the main component of Obama’s legacy on climate change. Heading into climate talks in Paris later this month, the regulation is the administration’s strongest example of the United States' willingness to lead on global warming.
Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) defended the regulation ahead of Tuesday’s vote, repeating statistics the administration has touted since releasing it. The amount of harmful emissions that will be cut under the rule should prevent 3,600 premature deaths and 1,700 heart attacks, Reid said.
"It is the right thing to do and the president will protect this because it’s the right thing for the health of America," Reid said.
At least 110 environmental and health organizations sent a letter to the Senate before the vote, characterizing the resolutions as "an extreme assault on public health" and "economic benefits of the Clean Power Plan."
This article has been updated throughout.
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