CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller on Wednesday lost another round in his continuing effort to block the Obama administration from beginning the process of reducing greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.
The West Virginia Democrat indicated he would continue looking for a vehicle to win approval for his proposal to delay for two years any U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations on global warming gases from power stations, oil refineries and large manufacturing plants.
Rockefeller had tried to attach his delay to an unrelated bill concerning the Small Business Administration. Senators rejected his effort by a count of 88-12 in a vote on which 60 supporters were needed for approval.
"What we need is a timeout," Rockefeller said, arguing that his amendment would give the coal industry and electric utilities more time to perfect and deploy greenhouse gas controls before EPA required emissions cuts.
The Senate vote came as the House was considering a separate bill to block EPA from any action to deal with climate change.
Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley, both R-W.Va., and Rep. Nick J. Rahall, D-W.Va., all co-sponsored the House legislation.
In a Senate floor speech, Rockefeller sought to depict his proposal as a moderate move, compared to other legislation to permanently bar EPA from implementing any rules to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Rockefeller said that "mature people" don't support one such measure, authored by Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. That measure, which died on a 50-50 vote, was co-sponsored and voted for by Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. Manchin also voted in favor of Rockefeller's amendment.
During his successful run for Senate, Manchin campaigned using a television ad in which he shot at a copy of greenhouse gas legislation, bragging that he would "take dead aim" at such bills. Manchin has said the nation does not need "an energy policy that is crafted by bureaucrats, overregulated by the EPA, and ignores critical domestic resources by choosing winners and losers."
Coal is considered the nation's largest source of global-warming pollution, representing a third of U.S. greenhouse emissions, equal to the combined output of all cars, trucks, buses, trains and boats. Most scientists recommend the nation swiftly cut carbon dioxide emissions, reducing them by about 80 percent below 2000 levels by mid-century to avoid the worst consequences of climate change.
While coal industry supporters and many scientists believe that carbon capture and storage technology, or CCS, can be a part of the solution, there are major questions about the cost, scale and feasibility of equipment that would be need to be installed on power plants around the world. And many other experts caution that without mandated cuts in greenhouse emissions, industry is unlikely to widely install expensive CCS equipment.
The Obama administration EPA has been moving toward regulating greenhouse gases under a July 2007 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that mandated action if the agency's scientists concluded those emissions were endangering public health and welfare.
Late last year, EPA announced it would propose rules on power plants by July 2011 and oil refineries by December 2011. The rules would be finalized by May 2012 and November 2012, respectively. Actual requirements for reducing emissions would likely be phased in over time after that.
Over the last six months, Rockefeller has given several major speeches in which he said he accepts the scientific consensus about global warming, but simply believes the coal industry needs more time to adapt. But last June, Rockefeller voted with a Republican measure that sought to overturn EPA's scientific finding that greenhouse gases were a danger to public health and welfare.
"I believe in 'clean coal'," Rockefeller said Wednesday. "Some people say, 'coal', but I like it much better if they say, 'clean coal'. It can be clean. The technology is there. More is on the way."
As he has done previously, Rockefeller touted the installation of CCS equipment on an American Electric Power plant in Mason County, but did not mention that it's a pilot project that captures just a small fraction of the facility's carbon dioxide emissions.
Reach Ken Ward Jr. at email@example.com or 304-348-1702.