Thursday, December 12, 2013
New England's U.S. senators delivered a unanimous rebuke Wednesday to an effort by Republicans from the South and West to overturn federal regulations to cut mercury and other toxic emissions released by coal-fired power plants.
Maine's Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins joined Republican colleagues Kelly Ayotte of New Hampshire and Scott Brown of Massachusetts in voting against a resolution sponsored by Sen. James Inhofe, R-Oklahoma.
Inhofe's proposal, which aimed to stop rules finalized last year to reduce emissions of mercury, arsenic, acid gases, nickel and other substances, was defeated 53-46.
The measure was championed by the conservative Heritage Foundation and former House Majority Leader Dick Armey's FreedomWorks, which said the regulations "will have devastating effects on American industries" and "increase red tape and impose billions in new costs on the economy."
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said on the floor that the regulations would cost taxpayers more than $10 billion a year and that the EPA had "become one of the lead culprits of (the Obama) administration's war on American jobs."
While the vote had a strong partisan complexion, regionalism carried the day.
Senators from Maine and other New England states that are on the receiving end of air emissions voted against the measure.
Those from places that rely on coal-fired plants or coal mining tended to vote in favor.
Among the latter were five Democrats: Mark Warner and Jim Webb of Virginia, Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska.
"While many parts of the country rely on coal power, the health effects are borne by the people of Maine," Snowe said in a statement released after the vote. "It is unacceptable that these costs are simply transferred from one region to another, and that is why I have long supported reducing mercury pollution with cost-effective technologies."
Collins released a statement expressing support for "sensible regulatory reforms" and noting that she recently introduced a bill to require federal agencies to consider the economic costs of proposed regulations.
"When it comes to the air we breathe, however, I reject the false choice of pitting the environment against the economy, because we understand that for much of the state of Maine, the environment is the economy," she said.
Environmental and public health groups in Maine applauded the outcome and Snowe's and Collins' role in it.
"We are the tail pipe of the pollution stream that comes from these coal-powered plants to our west and south," said Edward Miller, Augusta-based senior vice president for public policy with the American Lung Association of the Northeast. "This was a very important vote in terms of air quality and health here in Maine."
Ben Seel, clean-air organizer for Environment Maine, said, "This was a reckless attempt to allow more toxic pollution and would have serious implications for the health of Mainers and for the sanctity of Maine lakes and rivers and the fish we eat from them."
Mercury from the atmosphere accumulates in fish.
Maine health officials have posted advisories on the state's freshwater lakes and rivers, urging limits on fish consumption to avoid mercury exposure, which can be especially harmful for children and pregnant women.
"I'm sure it was a tough vote for our senators, but we are glad they voted the way they did," Seel said.
Staff Writer Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:
Correction: This story was revised at 12:10 p.m., June 21, 2012, to correctly identify Ben Seel, clean-air organizer for Environment Maine.