By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The House of Representatives passed a bill on Friday to block regulations that force industry to reduce unhealthy air emissions, such as mercury from coal-fired power plants, but the White House has promised to veto the measure and keep new clean air rules in place.
The vote was 249 to 169, largely along party lines.
Lawmakers in the Republican-controlled House have targeted Environmental Protection Agency air rules, saying they would kill jobs and burden businesses with billions of dollars in additional costs at the worst possible time.
"The Obama Administration is moving too fast and showing little regard for the economic consequences of their energy and environmental policies," said Representative John Sullivan, who sponsored the bill.
The Transparency in Regulatory Analysis of Impacts on the Nation, or TRAIN, Act was also supported by less than 20 Democrats, most of them from coal and other energy-producing states.
The bill would also likely delay the EPA rule introduced in July that would cut smog and soot from coal-fired plants. That rule, the Cross State Air Pollution Rule, would add costs to power generators such as Southern Co, and American Electric Power, and would force coal-fired power plants in 27 states east of the Rocky Mountains to slash the amount of pollution they give off. The rule is slated to take effect in January.
The TRAIN Act, which must be passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate and signed by Obama to become law, would set up an interagency panel led by the Commerce Department to assess the impact of EPA rules on the economy.
Democrats in the Senate have promised to quash the bill. Even if they do, parts of the measure could reappear later in the year as part of a broad spending bill that Democrats would find hard to vote against.
With an eye to next year's elections, Republicans will likely tout the House's passage of the bill as evidence they tried to save American energy jobs.
Deliberations in the EPA review panel the bill sets up would delay several agency rules including regulations on mercury emissions slated to be laid out in November. The heavy metal accumulates in fish that can lead to neurological problems in people who consume them.
Environmentalists criticized TRAIN's passage in the House, saying it would change the process for setting national air standards and lead to premature deaths from heart and lung illnesses.
"Sacrificing tens of thousands of American lives will not create more jobs," said Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club. "Burdening the American people with billions of dollars in health bills will not lead to economic growth."
(Editing by Andrea Evans)