WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate backed a new EPA rule aimed at reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants that had Sens. James Inhofe and Mark Pryor feuding.

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate backed a new EPA rule aimed at reducing mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants that had Sens. James Inhofe and Mark Pryor feuding.

Inhofe, R-Okla., called on his colleagues Wednesday to back a “resolution of disapproval” that would have effectively blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating mercury emissions from power plants.

“If you vote against this amendment and they allow this rule to continue, you are effectively killing coal in America that’s accountable for almost 50 percent of our energy,” Inhofe warned.

Pryor, D-Ark., urged colleagues not to accept the false choice between coal and health.

“We don’t have to be anti-coal and pro-health. We can be both. We can do what’s good for the health of the country and good for coal and that is have clean coal,” Pryor said.

The Senate voted 53-46 against considering Inhofe’s resolution. Five Democrats, mostly from energy producing states, supported the resolution while five Republicans, mostly from New England, opposed it.

A majority of Americans support Pryor’s approach, according to a United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll released Wednesday.

The poll found 57 percent of the public supports the rule as long as companies are given more time to comply.

Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., voted with Inhofe.

“We are a coal-fired state, which means this misguided regulation would cause the price of electricity in Arkansas to skyrocket,” he said.

The cost of implementing the rule across the nation has been estimated at about $11 billion. Arkansas gets about 45 percent of its electricity from coal-fired plants, Boozman said.

Ahead of Wednesday’s vote, Pryor and Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., proposed doubling the time that utilities would have to comply with the new rule from three to six years. No vote has been scheduled on that resolution.

The pair have also said they will send a letter to President Barack Obama urging him to use his administrative authority to extend the compliance time by two additional years.

The EPA has been working on its mercury rule since 2000 when it concluded that regulating such emissions from power plants was necessary. Power plants are the largest remaining source of manmade mercury in the environment. The metal is known to impair brain development in children.

Pryor said the EPA rule requires power plants to install control technology that would reduce mercury and other toxic emissions by 90 percent by the end of 2015.

The reduced emissions, he said, are expected to save up to $90 billion a year in health costs by reducing heart attacks, asthma and other illnesses associated with exposure to mercury and other toxic emissions.

Pryor, however, said that the timetable to retrofit 1,400 electricity-generating units is unrealistic and that an additional three years would give utilities time to comply under a bad economy.

“Our plan provides a balanced, constructive solution that makes good health and economic sense,” he said.

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., sided with Inhofe saying the EPA rule would put thousands out of work and raise electric bills on families struggling through the worst economy in generations.

“Our coal miners are the salt of the earth. They work hard to provide energy for our country and to provide for their families. They don’t want a handout. All they want is a work permit. That’s all they’ve asked for,” Manchin said.

But Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., derided Inhofe’s resolution as a cynical effort by coal operators to lay the blame for plant closings to EPA regulations rather than economic conditions that favor natural gas.

“I don’t support this resolution of disapproval because it does nothing to look the future of coal,” he said. “Beyond the frenzy over this one EPA rule, we need to focus squarely on the real task of finding a long-term future for something called clean coal.”