Senate Republicans failed to find the one additional vote needed to move the legislation to the Senate floor, and rescheduled the hearing for March 9 -- the second postponement of the week. In a joint letter, Chafee, Baucus and two other possible swing votes, Democrats Barack Obama of Illinois and Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, stated that they needed better information from the EPA on the shifting legislative proposals before they could make a decision.
"We firmly believe that together we will be able to pass into law this year legislation that significantly improves air quality, protects the economy and provides relief to the power sector from burdensome and often-confusing environmental regulations," the senators wrote. But they added: "It is imperative that we have the most up-to-date information available in order to effectively negotiate a bipartisan compromise."
Aides to Sen. James M. Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the committee as well as the co-author of the legislation, said that if Clear Skies did not pass the panel by March 15, it was likely dead for the year.
That date is the deadline for the EPA to issue regulations on power plant emissions of mercury, under a court order in a lawsuit brought by conservation groups. While the groups are eager to see the EPA regulate the emissions, they contend that the rule should have been far tougher, and that it was influenced by political meddling.
A scathing report by the EPA's inspector general last month sided with that argument, asserting that Bush administration political appointees had instructed the agency's staff to use a predetermined target for reducing mercury rather than following established scientific practices and regulatory requirements.
Like Clear Skies, the proposed regulation calls for 70% cuts. Opponents argue that under the existing Clean Air Act, such a rule should have required the maximum pollution controls possible, which could achieve up to 90% reductions.