Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., speaking on a Wednesday conference call, said he is hoping for a vote this afternoon on an amendment that he sponsored with Republican Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, Ky., that aims to block the Environmental Protection Agency from bypassing Congress and regulating greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act.
Inhofe and McConnell have been pushing for a vote on the amendment for weeks, but the Democratic leadership has resisted to protect vulnerable Democrats in swing states in which the regulations are unpopular.
The failure of the last Congress to pass “cap and trade” has raised fears among conservatives that the Obama administration would pursue the same goal through the EPA, without Congressional approval.
Though Obama has not authorized that action so far, Inhofe noted that he is under heavy pressure from the environmentalist lobby. “I don’t think he’s going to completely abandon the base,” Inhofe said of Obama, arguing that if the president does not regulate carbon dioxide emissions, he’ll be seen as “caving in” under pressure from the GOP.
While Republicans believe that they can achieve a majority in the Senate for the amendment, the 60-vote supermajority will be a tougher hill to climb. McConnell’s office has identified 15 Democrats whose public statements suggest they are possible votes for the amendment, but it’s unclear whether they will vote for it.
In attempt to provide cover to this group of fence-sitters, Democrats have offered a series of alternate amendments. One, by Sen. Max Baucus, D- Mont., would aim to exempt small businesses and another, by Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D -W.V., would postpone any EPA action for two years.
Yet Inhofe argued that even if small businesses don’t directly have to comply with carbon regulations, they’ll still be adversely affected by the higher energy prices that would result from EPA action. And the Rockefeller amendment wouldn’t be a permanent fix to the problem.
Inhofe added that a number of large businesses are holding off on making big investments until there’s more clarity on whether the carbon regulations are going to happen.