Coal industry and green group lobbyists may get an overtime period in their efforts to sway votes on Sen. James Inhofe’s (R-Okla.) plan to scuttle EPA rules that mandate cuts in mercury and other emissions from coal-fired power plants.

Inhofe’s resolution to overturn the rule faces a procedural June 18 deadline for a vote. But the Oklahoma Republican said an agreement may be in the offing that would push the vote off until the farm bill is completed.

“Our deadline of Monday [June 18] may not be realistic because of a lot of them would rather do the farm bill first, which is fine with me,” Inhofe told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday, noting he expects a so-called unanimous consent agreement between Senate leaders that would allow the extension.

Inhofe said is understanding is that Senate leadership would prefer that route. “I kind of anticipate that will happen because there are several [senators] that have expressed a desire to wait until after the farm bill,” he said.

The path forward on the farm bill remains in flux. Senate leaders are scrambling to limit amendments in an effort to pass this bill this week or next week.

Inhofe’s Congressional Review Act resolution to kill the EPA rule is immune from filibuster, but he nonetheless faces an uphill battle to win 51 votes.

That job got even harder with plans by Sens. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.) to float a measure that would extend the compliance period to six years rather than overturn the regulation.

The measure could give lawmakers political cover to oppose Inhofe, who criticized it Tuesday. “What their bill would do is kill coal but do it in six years. Just changing the execution date doesn’t really do too much,” Inhofe said.

EPA’s rule finalized late last year provides power plants three-to-four years to come into compliance (and, conceivably, a fifth year for some plants if power reliability issues arise).

Alexander touted his extension measure on Tuesday and responded to Inhofe’s criticism of his bill.
“I respect Senator Inhofe’s point of view,” Alexander told reporters on Tuesday. “I would hope he’d respect mine.” He also talked up the need for clean air in his state.

“Nine million tourists don’t drive every year to see the Great Smoggy Mountains, they drive to see the Great Smoky Mountains,” Alexander said. “And if they stop coming, they cuts down on our tourism jobs.”

Inhofe and other critics of EPA say the air toxics standards and other power plant rules will together force closure of significant numbers of coal plants, harm the economy and jeopardize power reliability.

But backers of the standards call them vital public health protections and say allegations of economic harm are inaccurate.

Click here and here for more on the battle over the rules.

Bernie Becker contributed

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