WASHINGTON — The US Senate on Wednesday rejected a bid to strip President Barack Obama of his power to regulate greenhouse gases, a move that could have thrown US efforts against climate change into chaos.
The Senate, where Obama’s Democratic Party holds a majority, voted 50-50 on a bill to stop the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from setting standards on greenhouse gas emissions blamed for the world’s rising temperatures.
The measure required 60 votes for passage. Four Democrats broke ranks to support the measure, while a sole Republican backed the efforts to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
Under Obama, the EPA has started a process of setting standards for emissions from fossil fuel power plants and petroleum refineries, the source of nearly 40 percent of US greenhouse gasses.
The White House said it was “encouraged” by the Senate vote and praised the role of the EPA, a federal agency, in protecting public health.
The Senate “rejected an approach that would have increased the nation’s dependence on oil, contradicted the scientific consensus on global warming and jeopardized America’s ability to lead the world in the clean energy economy,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said in a statement.
The rival Republican Party and business interests have been livid at the move, accusing Obama of overstepping his authority after Congress rejected efforts on climate change.
A bill to create a so-called “cap-and-trade” plan — in which businesses would face restrictions on carbon emissions but be able to trade credits — died last year in the Senate even when it had a larger Democratic majority.
Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the top Republican in the chamber, said that the votes showed clear discontent with EPA regulations.
“We in the Senate will continue to fight for legislation that will give the certainty that no unelected bureaucrat at the EPA is going to make efforts to create jobs even more difficult than the administration already has,” he said.
The Republicans say that carbon restrictions would drive up gas prices and costs for businesses, while many Democrats and environmentalists counter that climate efforts would open up a new green economy creating well-paid jobs.
The House of Representatives, where the Republicans won control in November, was debating its own bill Wednesday to disempower the Environmental Protection Agency. But it cannot go into law with the Senate and the White House opposed.
The four Democrats who voted with the Republicans represent states that lean conservative or have major industries in fossil fuels — Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Bill Nelson of Nebraska and Mark Pryor of Arkansas.
Democrat Jay Rockefeller, the other senator from West Virginia, had offered an amendment to wait two years before allowing greenhouse gas regulation but his proposal was rejected by both sides.
The only Republican to take the side of the EPA was Susan Collins of Maine.