Published: Sun, May 14, 2017
USA | By Kelli Rowe

Obama Methane Rule Stands in Surprise Senate Vote

Obama Methane Rule Stands in Surprise Senate Vote

The U.S. Senate failed this morning to repeal an Obama-era methane rule, instead voting to preserve regulations which limit oil and gas-related methane emissions on public lands. Oil and gas lobbyists have argued the measure forces costly upgrades and monitoring at drilling sites at a time the industry has already addressed the problem of escaping methane, the principal component of natural gas.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress to overturn federal regulations they disapprove of within 60 days of having received the rule.

Forty-nine Republicans voted to abolish the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule, one vote short of passing through the Senate. Vice President Mike Pence was at the Capitol in case his vote was needed as a tiebreaker. John McCain, R-Ariz., Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) also joined the democrats.

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) dismissed Democrats' outrage over the firing of FBI Director James Comey, and promptly proceeded to business as usual in the upper chamber: repealing regulations approved by the prior administration.

The Hill reported that the failure of the Senate to repeal the methane rule "was the first failed vote of the Trump era".

A number of other Republicans - including Sens. Environmental groups were surprised by the vote outcome and called a rare victory.

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The Congressional Review Act was put in place in 1996 to help speed the process by which the legislative branch of the government can repeal restrictions put in place by federal agencies.

"While I am concerned that the BLM rule may be onerous, passage of the resolution would have prevented the federal government, under any administration, from issuing a rule that is "similar", McCain said in a statement. The rule targeted methane, a potent greenhouse gas (GHG) accounting for 10 percent of all USA emissions of GHG. The administration announced Wednesday evening that the Interior Department is now reviewing the methane rule and will be expected to "suspend, revise or rescind the rule" because of its "significant regulatory burden [on] American energy production, economic growth and job creation".

At issue is 41 billion cubic feet of a greenhouse gas leaking from numerous almost 100,000 oil and gas wells on federally owned land. The Republican-controlled Senate appeared set to follow suit after the OH congressman Rob Portman, considered a swing voter, said the rule "would have hurt our economy and cost jobs in OH by forcing small, independent operators to close existing wells and slowing responsible energy production on federal lands". Obama's executive order restricts how much methane could be released, but the GOP wanted to strike any limitations on methane despite its effect on the environment. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said on the floor. Since President Trump took office, Congress and the White House have repealed more than a dozen regulations promulgated at the end of the Obama Administration.

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