WASHINGTON (AP) - Republicans will get a rare chance to test just how deep the Democrat-controlled Senate's support for environmental regulations goes.
Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., plans to offer a resolution Thursday to block newly adopted regulations aimed at curbing power plant pollution that causes unhealthy air downwind.
The Senate has successfully blocked numerous GOP measures to roll back environmental regulations during this Congress. But now Paul is invoking the Congressional Review Act, a rarely-used tactic that requires a simple majority to pass. That means the bar for passage is lower than the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. And some Democrats - most likely from states with coal-fired power plants - can safely defect and side with Republicans.
For the GOP, it's another chance to press the Democratic majority on one of its major election-year issues - rolling back environmental regulations Republicans claim will kill jobs and harm the economy. The Republican-controlled House already has passed a bill that would nullify the cross-state pollution regulation.
"Many regulations, including too many from the EPA, unnecessarily raise the cost of energy and other vital goods and services," Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said Wednesday, adding that she would vote in favor of the resolution. "While we all support responsible environmental regulation and want EPA to do its job, we also want to protect other vital national interests such as affordable and reliable energy and a sound economy."
The EPA issued the rules in July. They require power plants in 27 states to reduce smokestack pollution that crosses state lines, creating smog and soot problems in downwind states. Those states alone cannot clean up the pollution, which leads to billions of dollars being spent combating respiratory illnesses, asthma attacks and other health problems.
Republicans say they are costly and unnecessary regulations that will jeopardize the reliability of electricity by shutting down some coal-fired power plants. The EPA estimates the rules will cost about $2.4 billion annually in 2014.
The White House has threatened to veto the measure, saying it would "cause substantial harm to public health and undermine our nation's longstanding commitment to clean up pollution from power plants."