Greens voice relief after Fetterman backs EPA tailpipe rule

By Emma Dumain | 04/22/2024 06:09 AM EDT

The Pennsylvania Democrat had expressed concern about the Biden administration’s mandates.

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.).

Sen. John Fetterman (D-Pa.) speaking with reporters at the Capitol last month. Mariam Zuhaib/AP

Pennsylvania Democratic Sen. John Fetterman walked onto the Senate floor Thursday and — with an unmistakable “thumbs down” gesture — voted against a Republican attempt to roll back an EPA rule designed to crack down on tailpipe emissions and accelerate the advent of electric vehicles.

Environmental groups in Pennsylvania and Washington are now expressing relief after lobbying the senator on the issue and encouraging residents to call his office.

Fetteman, sometimes described as a progressive, has made comments and taken positions in recent weeks that have reminded people he’s more of a moderate — including on energy policy and fossil fuels.


Tiernan Sittenfeld, senior vice president of government affairs at the influential League of Conservation Voters, told E&E News her team met with Fetterman directly as the vote neared.

“We applaud Senator Fetterman’s vote,” she said in a statement, “and look forward to continuing our work together to advance climate solutions that center good-paying union jobs.”

In late March, immediately following EPA’s announcement that it would require major emissions reductions for cars and small trucks, Fetterman told reporters he was worried the agency’s new framework was too “aggressive,” and he wouldn’t rule out joining Republican efforts to reverse it.

He also questioned whether “American consumer sentiment” around electric vehicles was one of “diminished … enthusiasm” and said he himself had no plans to buy one. EPA has estimated that under its new mandates, 68 percent of all new cars sold in 2032 will be EVs.

Sittenfeld, at the time, said she and her colleagues found Fetterman’s comments “perplexing and concerning.”

Fetterman, meanwhile, did nothing to assuage green anxieties and wouldn’t say how he planned to vote on S. 4072 from Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) against EPA’s rule. Senate leaders promised Crapo a vote as part of a deal to avoid a government shutdown.

The bill, which needed 60 votes to advance, failed 52-46. Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Jon Tester of Montana and Sherrod Brown of Ohio ended up supporting it with all Republicans, along with independent Sen. Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona.

Manchin and Sinema are retiring. Tester and Brown are in tough reelection fights and have bucked the administration on several hot-button environmental issues.

‘Big outreach strategy’

Fetterman’s staff won’t say how the senator arrived at his decision to oppose efforts to overturn the tailpipe emissions rule. His spokesperson, Carrie Adams, had no comment.

A Fetterman aide, however, had previously told E&E News in an email that, when deciding whether to vote on “efforts to undo administration policies,” Fetterman “considers the impact on Pennsylvania; impact on labor and working people; the intent of original rule; President Biden’s intent; and the intent of Republicans in pushing for the policy changes (especially whether it’s just political theatre or actually about reasonable policy differences).”

If Fetterman voted against the Crapo bill, it stands to reason he worked through these questions and arrived at a conclusion.

In any event, environmental groups didn’t hold back this week in praising Fetterman for his “no” vote — and giving themselves some credit for perhaps inspiring that outcome.

“We are very pleased that Sen. Fetterman voted against the Crapo bill,” said Tom Schuster, director of the Pennsylvania chapter of the Sierra Club, which ran a digital ad urging Fetterman to oppose the legislation.

“I think he heard from his constituents, many of whom are very concerned about the impacts of vehicles on air pollution, public health and climate, and he sided with the people of Pennsylvania and our future generations,” Schuster continued. “For that, we thank him.”

David Masur, executive director of the nonprofit PennEnvironment, said, “I’d like to hope our effort to educate the senator’s staff (which, in turn, they hopefully took to the senator), played a role in convincing him to oppose the Crapo bill. But of course, it was a team effort — many groups were involved in advocating that the senator support the tailpipe rule.”

Jeff Slyfield, climate and energy advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council who was involved in a “big outreach strategy” before the bill came up, said Fetterman “voted on behalf of all Pennsylvanians” on Thursday “who want more options to drive cleaner cars and reduce air pollution.”

Senators will likely get a chance to vote on EPA’s tailpipe rule again when a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval comes up. And that would only need a simple majority to pass.