By Timothy Cama – 11/17/15 06:36 PM EST
The Senate voted Tuesday to block a pair of regulations representing the central pillars of President Obama’s climate change initiative.
The votes approving resolutions under the Congressional Review Act come less than two weeks before Obama and other world leaders meet in Paris to agree to a worldwide pact to fight global warming.
The votes are symbolic, since Obama would veto the resolutions and supporters do not have the two-thirds majority needed in both chambers to override the vetoes.
Senators voted 52-46 to stop the carbon dioxide limits for existing power plants, which mandate a 32 percent cut in the power sector’s carbon by 2030. The to block the related carbon rule for newly built power plants pass by the same vote.
Together, the regulations are the biggest part of Obama’s pledge going into the talks to cut the United States’ greenhouse gases 26 percent to 28 percent.
Obama pledged to veto the Senate’s measures. But Republicans said it is nonetheless important to take a stand against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
“If the administration’s proposed Clean Power Plan moves forward, hardship will be felt all across the country. Fewer job opportunities, higher power bills, and less reliable electricity will result,” Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.), who sponsored the legislation on the existing plant rule out of concern for West Virginia’s coal-dependent economy, said on the Senate floor.
“Congress should pass this resolution and place this critical issue squarely on the president’s desk,” she said. “America’s economic future is at stake here, and it is time to send a clear signal that enough is enough.”
Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.), who also sponsored the Capito’s resolution, said the EPA’s rule threatens to harm electricity reliability so much that Americans could not be sure their lights would turn on.
“The one thing that we do is that when you reach over to turn on a light switch in the United States of America, the lights come on. And it doesn’t matter what time of the day,” she said, adding that the EPA rule makes that harder.
The White House said Obama would veto the measures, saying they would threaten billions of dollars of benefits to public health and the environment from the regulations.
“Most importantly, 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 White House said of the existing plant measure, with a similar statement on the other resolution.
Democrats largely agreed, and they criticized Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) for bringing it to the floor instead of more pressing matters, like funding homeland security.
“I find it really hard to comprehend that a majority of this senate led by my Republican friends would side with the special interests above the people who simply want to breathe clean air, who simply want to see us dedicated to the fight against climate change,” said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), the ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee.
She asked why McConnell would bring up the resolutions after last week’s terrorist attacks in Paris “instead of taking up that budget agreement and looking in a bipartisan way at every single agency … that we fund to make sure they are doing everything to keep America safe?”
“This is an historic debate,” Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) said earlier Tuesday. “It basically boils down to whether or not in the 21st century the United States is going to be leader in the clean energy revolution … or we are still going to be tied to 19th-century technologies like coal.”
The rules, which were made final in August, are also under litigation after various states and dozens of energy companies and groups sued in federal court to stop it.
The House Energy and Commerce Committee is expected to vote Wednesday on that chamber’s versions of both resolutions.
Heitkamp was joined by Sens. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.) and Joe Minchin (D-W.Va.) to buck their party and vote for the resolutions.
Send. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) voted with the Democrats against the measures.