Published: Fri, May 12, 2017
USA | By Kelli Rowe

Senate blocks move to overturn Obama-era rule on drilling

The White House, aware that the vote to repeal the methane rule would be close, sent Vice President Mike Pence to the Capitol so that his vote could break a tie, but that was not in the cards.

Senate Republicans have failed in a vote to block an Obama administration rule limiting the acceptable amount of emissions from oil and natural gas drilling after three GOP Senators joined a united Democratic front to reject the effort. That could make it much tougher for President Trump to continue with his mission of deregulation.

Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona made a surprise vote against the resolution, joining fellow Republicans Lindsey Graham of SC and Susan Collins of ME in opposition. The Obama administration issued the rules in November, after the presidential election.

The rule is similar to a law passed in Colorado in 2014, which regulates methane emissions from oil and gas drilling. It targeted methane, a potent greenhouse gas that accounted for about 10 percent of all United States greenhouse gas emissions from human activities in 2015.

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"This is clearly a huge win for our health and our climate", The New York Times quoted Sittenfeld as saying.

The failure of the effort to roll back the methane rule is a small but significant victory for environmentalists in the Trump era, as the president has pushed aggressively to dismantle most of his predecessor's environmental legacy. The vote represents a rare defeat for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and an increasingly rare victory for the environment under Trump. The move involved using the Congressional Review Act, which grants legislators power to undo executive orders by the previous administration. But Congress should not accept flawed regulations because writing new ones would require their authorization. Before Donald Trump's inauguration, this provision was little-used, but Trump and Congress have used the Congressional Review Act to eliminate 13 different Obama-era initiatives.

That's doesn't mean the industry's fight is over. Environmental groups defended the measure as an update to regulations dating back to 1983.

When methane emissions occur, they are often accompanied by the release of cancer-causing toxins like benzene and ozone-forming pollutants.

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A handful of other regulations caught the eyes of some in this Congress, leading to resolutions aimed at a CRA repeal.

Gun Safety. In the wake of a series of mass shootings at schools and workplaces, the Obama administration pushed through a rule to strengthen federal background checks of gun buyers. The rule was supposed to have two main benefits. In a letter to Portman, Zinke, the Interior Department secretary, said he would "act within my authority as Secretary to craft solutions that incentivize responsible development". The regulation required federal contractors to disclose and correct serious safety violations as a condition for seeking additional work. The rule was opposed by business groups such as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the Public Services Council, which has representatives of companies such as Northrop Grumman Corp. and BAE Systems PLC on its board of directors.

■ Limited the way coal mining companies could dump debris into streams after blowing up mountaintops to gain access to coal deposits.

Democrats and environmental groups countered that the rule protects the public health and generates millions of dollars in revenue for state, local and tribal governments. "Reducing venting and flaring from oil wells will reduce emissions contributing to climate change and save public resources".

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