Hoyer: Republicans lack votes in Congress to block EPA rule

Democrats in Congress will be able to keep Republicans from overturning the Obama administration’s rules to lower greenhouse-gas emissions, said second-ranking House Democrat Steny Hoyer.

“The overwhelming majority of our party is going to support it and the Senate’s not going to pass a repeal,” Hoyer of Maryland said in an interview Thursday with Bloomberg News reporters and editors in New York. Democrats control the Senate 55-45.

“Nor will the president sign it,” Hoyer said. “And if it got to him, we’d sustain his veto.”

The Environmental Protection Agency’s rule, proposed June 2, seeks to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by an average of 30 percent from 2005 levels. The reduction would be equal to eliminating carbon pollution from two-thirds of all cars and trucks in the U.S.

Republicans in Congress oppose the plan, saying it would cost jobs and raise electricity prices. A number of Democrats from energy-producing states have expressed concern about the proposed rules or said they want to see changes.

House Republican leaders are considering whether to push legislation to reject the emissions rules or try to block the EPA from spending money to implement them.

The House voted in August 2013 to allow either chamber of Congress to veto major U.S. rulemaking, including emissions rules. Democrats held their defections to just six lawmakers who voted with Republicans to pass the bill.

Hoyer knows Democrats may have to contend with one of their own — Nick Rahall of West Virginia — proposing legislation to block the rules.

“We may lose some; the coal states are very concerned about coal,” he said, though he predicted losses of Democratic votes would be limited.

U.S. energy companies have increased giving to Republicans over Democrats ahead of the November election, betting that a Republican-led Senate would be more resistant to regulations that may harm energy producers. Republicans need to gain a net six seats to take majority control of the Senate.

Coal-industry political action committees have given 93 percent of contributions to Republicans in the 2013-2014 election cycle so far, compared with 68 percent in 2010. Oil and gas company PACs gave 83 percent of donations to Republicans, while electric utilities gave 63 percent to members of the party.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said he plans to introduce legislation to block the EPA standards.

Hoyer said climate change may be a tricky issue for some Democrats with competitive election contests, though more Americans agree with Obama on the issue.

Almost two-thirds of Americans support setting higher emissions and pollution standards for businesses, according to the annual Gallup environment survey, conducted March 6-9. A similar number — 63 percent — back mandatory controls on carbon dioxide and other greenhouse-gas emissions. The survey of 1,048 Americans had a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

John Podesta, President Barack Obama’s top adviser on climate issues, met privately with Hoyer and senior House Democrats last week to discuss strategy before the rules were announced.

Democrats have highlighted the health benefits of cleaner air from reduced emissions while rejecting claims by Republicans and industry representatives that the proposal would cost jobs.

“This false choice that some would like to pose between jobs and breathing clean air, it’s harmful and I think it’s unfair to the next generation that will have to breathe the air we leave them,” California Democrat Xavier Becerra, another Democrat briefed by Podesta, told reporters.

Asked what he thought of a House Republican plan to pay for highway funding with cuts to the U.S. Postal Service, Hoyer replied, “not much.”

House Republicans propose ending Saturday delivery of first-class mail, catalogs and advertising circulars, among other changes to the money-losing Postal service. Savings would be credited to the Highway Trust Fund, which may need a cash infusion as soon as July to reimburse states for road construction.

Hoyer said he’d prefer raising the 18.4 cents-a-gallon gas tax to pay for roads. “We’re trying to build or repair at 2014 prices with 1993 income,” he said. “That’s not a rational route to pursue.”

Hoyer pledged Democrats will put an immigration bill on the House floor next session if they win the majority in November. They’ll also move a long-term unemployment measure and legislation to increase the minimum wage, he said.

That is much easier said than done for Democrats, who currently hold 199 seats in the U.S. House. They need 218 for a majority.

Their path is complicated by Republican-dominated redistricting and geographical disadvantages that left Democrats with fewer seats though they won more total votes than Republicans in 2012 House races nationwide.

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