(CNN) -- Senate Joint Resolution 37, the Senate bill that would overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's controversial Mercury and Air Toxics Standards or MATS, was voted down Wednesday by a margin of 46 to 53.
Introduced by Senator James Inhofe (R-OK) in February, the resolution was a challenge to the country's first national protections rule designed to limit the amount of heavy metals like mercury, arsenic, chromium, nickel and other toxic air pollutants released by power plants that burn coal and oil -- toxins many suspect cause cancer and other health problems.
But Inhofe said the bill was specifically designed to kill the coal industry and the good paying jobs it provides. He led the charge to repeal the protections and vowed to keep fighting what he called the Obama administration's "damaging regulatory regime."
"Our momentum continues to build, as a growing chorus is rising up against the Obama-EPA's radical green agenda," Inhofe said. "Whether it's EPA regulations hurting farmers, a 'crucify them' philosophy against American energy producers, or an admission from EPA officials that their rules, designed to kill coal will be 'painful every step of the way,' this much is clear: EPA is earning a reputation for abuse. During the course of this debate, we exposed the economic pain of EPA's rules, gaining the strong bipartisan support of business groups and labor unions, of Democrats and Republicans from states that will feel the heavy hand of the federal government as it puts them out of business."
But John Walke, clean air director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, was encouraged by Wednesday's vote.
"Today's bipartisan Senate vote is a victory for health, clean air and common sense," said Walke. "Despite fear mongering by the coal industry, some utilities and their allies, the Senate has rejected an irresponsible effort to repeal mercury and air toxics protections that are backed by science and required by law. The House Republican Leadership should take note and cease its efforts to undermine the Clean Air Act -- efforts the public does not support."
According to the EPA, power plants are the biggest source of toxic releases into the air, including 50% of mercury emissions and 77% of acid gas emissions. When that mercury reaches water it changes into a highly toxic form of methylmercury. This builds up in fish, and those eating that contaminated fish are exposed. The agency says exposure to methylmercury is particularly dangerous for pregnant women, unborn babies and young children.
Existing plants will have four years to comply with MATS. The EPA estimates about 1,400 units will be affected -- 1,100 coal-fired units and 300 oil fired units at approximately 600 power plants. They say many of these plants already meet some part of the standards.
In the House, a vote on a bill that would rewrite smog standards is expected this week.