The latest attempt to curtail the Environmental Protection Agency’s power to regulate power sector pollution met with defeat June 20, but it wasn’t for lack of trying by utility company lobbyists.
The resolution, introduced by Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), was defeated by a vote of 46-53. The resolution would have overturned the EPA‘s Mercury and Air Toxics Standard.
In the lead-up to the vote, stakes got higher with the threat of a presidential veto. Behind the scenes, but still accessible via public record, lobbyists threw around a massive amount of money — most of it being thrown by opponents of new and more powerful EPA regulations.
A high-stakes money fight
Alex Bronstein-Moffly, an analyst with nonpartisan lobbyist watchdog firm First Street Research Group, said lobbyist spending by EPA opponents outstripped that of the environmental lobby by a staggering amount.
Eight energy companies — FirstEnergy, DTE Energy, American Electric Power, Southern Co., Ameren, Energy Future Holdings, GenOn Energy and PPL — spent $67 million lobbying Congress to overturn EPA regulations.
“They are spending a tremendous amount of money to stop these regulations,” Bronstein-Moffly said. “One of the things we noticed about some of these energy companies is they pursue both sides of the aisle.”
Although the final vote tally broke more or less along party lines, opponents of the regulations are not necessarily always Republicans, he said.
“For the most part, states that produce and use a lot of coal do tend to be Republican, but generally it’s not surprising for a Democrat from a heavy coal-producing state to support this resolution, or a Republican like (Sen. Olympia) Snowe, (Sen. Susan) Collins or (Sen. Scott) Brown to vote against it,” he said.
Environmentalist groups who support vigorous EPA regulations might not be able to compete with the sheer amount of money being spent on lobbying, but they are doing their part in other ways, he said, like trying to educate the public on the harmful effects of pollution and the health benefits of reducing emissions.
“They see these as critical items. If the EPA lost their ability to do these regulations, it would be a huge change for them,” he said. “They are circulating reports to try to make their points, but just on a pure dollar basis, they are losing. I’d be surprised if they even spent a couple of million.”
With several types of EPA rules and regulations being considered, and still no comprehensive energy policy emerging out of Congress, the squabbling over how the U.S. will produce and use its energy will continue. A bill or resolution like the one Inhofe raised will probably be reintroduced at some point.
“It’s likely to come back up again. In this world, you fall once and get up twice,” he said. “It’s unlikely that it will pass, but it will be brought back up again — if for no other reason than to make a political point. They will use any sort of vehicle they have.”
The Mercury and Air Toxics Standard requires power plants of a certain generation capacity to use maximum achievable technology to reach compliance with standards for mercury and hazardous air pollutants by 2015.
The rule will also curtail a number of hazardous air pollutants, including lead, arsenic, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen fluoride and dioxins/furans.