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Democrats join in U.S. Senate vote to repeal Biden rule tracking tailpipe emissions


Democrats join in U.S. Senate vote to repeal Biden rule tracking tailpipe emissions

Apr 10, 2024 | 5:26 pm ET
By Jacob Fischler
Democrats join in U.S. Senate vote to repeal Biden rule tracking tailpipe emissions
Trucks and cars drive down the New Jersey Turnpike in Elizabeth, New Jersey. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON –– The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to roll back a Transportation Department rule that targeted greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles traveling on highways.

The rule, issued by the Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration in December, established greenhouse gas reductions as one of the 18 performance measures for state transportation departments and local planning organizations to track.

The 53-47 vote, with four Democrats and independents joining all Republicans, was approved via a resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to undo new executive branch rules. Only a majority vote is required.

The White House said Wednesday that President Joe Biden will veto the measure if it passes both chambers of Congress. The margin in the Senate’s vote Wednesday would be well below the two-thirds standard needed to override a veto.

The U.S. House, where Republicans enjoy a slim majority, is likely to approve the measure.

Democrats Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Jon Tester of Montana, and independent Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, voted along with every Senate Republican to approve the resolution.

Brown and Tester are among the most vulnerable Democratic senators facing reelection this year. Manchin and Sinema are leaving the Senate rather than seeking reelection.

The rule went into effect Jan. 8. It required state transportation departments and metropolitan planning organizations to make reducing carbon emissions a goal and established a method to measure the amount of carbon emitted from vehicles on their highway systems.

The rule did not mandate what the state and local goals must be.

It was issued as part of a Biden administration goal to reduce carbon emissions at least 50% below 2005 levels by 2030 and reach net-zero emissions by 2050.

The transportation sector is the largest single source of carbon emissions in the country, accounting for 28% of emissions nationwide in 2021, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Rule overstepped law, critics say

North Dakota Republican Kevin Cramer introduced the resolution to repeal the rule. Every Republican and Manchin signed on as cosponsors.

In floor speeches Wednesday, Manchin, a frequent Biden administration critic, and Cramer said the rule was illegal.

The small group of senators that wrote the bipartisan infrastructure law in 2021 considered and declined to grant the FHWA the authority to establish greenhouse gas emissions monitoring, Manchin, who was among that group, said.

“This rule is yet another example of the administration’s trying to implement the law they wanted instead of the one they got,” he said.

Mandating lower emissions would not be possible without limiting driving, Manchin added, which is unworkable in rural states such as West Virginia.

Removing a tool

In a statement ahead of the Senate vote, the White House said the vote to repeal the rule would only take away a tool for states to measure greenhouse gas emissions from transportation.

The resolution repealing the rule “would remove GHG emissions management from the suite of national highway performance measures – in other words, removing a common-sense, good-government tool for transparently managing transportation-related GHG emissions and informing transportation investment decisions,” the statement of administration policy read.

Beth Osborne, the director of the left-leaning transportation policy think tank Transportation for America, criticized the move in a post to X.

“If we can’t even track our emissions from transportation, we certainly can’t do anything about it,” Osborne said. “What are 53 members of the Senate so afraid that the public might learn?”