This vote was on an amendment that would have put the brakes on U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules limiting emissions of mercury and other toxic pollutants. The EPA would have been required to go back to the drawing board, rewrite the rules in a weaker form, and give private businesses more time to comply with them.
Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) offered the amendment, saying EPA rules on emissions from boilers and other industrial incinerators were too strict. Citing a study by the logging and paper industry, she argued that the rules would impose costs that would lead to job losses in Maine and around the country.
“We hear over and over again that the top priority of the Senate should be to create an environment where jobs are created and preserved. Well, this amendment is all about saving jobs,” Sen. Collins said. “It has been our shared goal to ensure that the final rules crafted by the EPA protect public health and the environment, while preventing the loss of thousands of jobs we can ill afford to lose. Enactment of this legislation is necessary to protect and to grow America's manufacturing workforce.”
Opponents of the legislation argued that it was a giveaway to an industry looking for a free pass to release toxic pollutants into the atmosphere. They noted that the EPA had made changes to its rules in response to input from industry. They also argued that the cost of complying with the rules would be dwarfed by the improvements in public health from curbing pollution.
“I have never had one constituent come up to me and say: ‘Senator Boxer, there is one thing you can do for me. I beg you. Increase the arsenic in the air. I need more mercury. Oh, I am desperately in need of more benzene, chromium, and lead,’” Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) said. “This amendment is described as being nothing but a delay when it actually changes the standards for the most poisonous pollution known to humankind. Instead of the EPA Regulatory Relief Act, I would call it the Increased Poisonous Pollution in America Act.”
Even though 52 senators voted for Sen. Collins’ amendment and only 46 voted against, it was defeated because it was brought up under Senate rules that require 60 votes for passage. Voting “yea” were 44 Republicans and 8 Democrats. Voting “nay” were 45 Democrats, including a majority of progressives, and 1 Republican. As a result, Senate Republicans failed to roll back EPA rules limiting the emission of mercury and other toxic pollutants.