Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate

Repeal of Obama drilling rule stalls in the Senate
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The GOP’s effort to roll back contentious Obama-era regulations is hitting a snag.

Some Republican senators are coming out against a resolution that would repeal an Interior Department regulation governing oil and natural gas drilling on federal land. The rule is designed to cut down on the release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

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A measure canceling the rule passed the House in February on a vote of 221-191. That’s the slimmest margin for any of the resolutions the House GOP has passed this year under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) reversing regulations from the Obama administration.

Despite support from Senate leadership and the oil and gas industry, the methane legislation has not come up for a vote in the upper chamber, and its future there is uncertain.

Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin Graham2020 hopefuls skeptical of criminal justice deal with Trump Senate gets to work in August — but many don’t show up Graham: Flynn should lose security clearance MORE (R-S.C.) told The Hill that a CRA resolution, which prevents the government from writing any future rule that is “substantially the same” as the one overturned, is too blunt an instrument in this case.

“I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA,” Graham said.

Sen. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsCollins, seen as possible swing vote, set to meet with Kavanaugh White House weighs clawing back State, foreign aid funding The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) MORE (R-Maine) said she is “leaning against” the resolution.

“I have not made a final decision, but I am leaning against it based on what I’ve heard so far,” Collins said last week.

Spokesmen for Sens. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerBusinesses fear blowback from Russia sanctions bill Senate GOP campaign arm asking Trump to endorse McSally in Arizona: report When it comes to drone tech, wildfire officials need the rights tools for the job MORE (R-Colo.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanSenate panel spars with Trump administration over treatment of unaccompanied immigrant children Senate study: Trump hasn’t provided adequate support to detained migrant children Senators introduce bill to change process to levy national security tariffs MORE (R-Ohio) said they’re undecided on whether to vote for the measure. Opponents of the resolution have pressured both of them to oppose it.

Democratic Sens. Heidi HeitkampMary (Heidi) Kathryn HeitkampDems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records To solve the southern border crisis, look past the border The Hill's Morning Report: Dems have a majority in the Senate (this week) MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinDems to challenge Kavanaugh for White House records Overnight Health Care: Senate takes up massive HHS spending bill next week | Companies see no sign of drugmakers cutting prices, despite Trump claims | Manchin hits opponent on ObamaCare lawsuit Manchin hits opponent on ObamaCare lawsuit with new ad MORE (W.Va.) are also undecided. They are both running for reelection next year in deep red, energy-heavy states and have broken with their party numerous times this year to vote for GOP-backed legislation and presidential nominations.

The lobbying fight over the resolution has been fierce. 

The drilling industry supports the measure, saying it would undo a costly regulation that threatens jobs and their operations on public land. They also say the rule is duplicative with regulations passed by many states.

The American Council for Capital Formation, which is backed in part by fossil fuel interests, started a multimedia advertising campaign this week focused on Washington, D.C., and the home states of senators who are undecided on the CRA resolution.

“I think this has become somewhat of a debate — a policy debate issue among environmental activists. That’s why we’re weighing in, as we see the economic and jobs benefits,” Robert Dillon, the group’s vice president for communications and a former Senate staffer, said. 

“We wouldn’t get in and spend our time and money if we didn’t think it was needed. If we thought our votes were there, we would put our resources somewhere else. We think it’s important, so we’re putting a little muscle behind it.”

Groups like the Independent Petroleum Association of America say the way to stop methane venting and flaring is to approve more pipeline infrastructure, rather than a new federal mandate.

“IPAA continues to educate Senate offices on the costly and duplicative burden that the [Bureau of Land Management] rule, which is essentially an air quality rule and is outside the congressionally given authority of the BLM, places on U.S. independent producers’ businesses,” said Neal Kirby, the organization’s spokesman.

Supporters of the methane rule have urged senators to vote against the CRA resolution for a host of reasons, including the economic impact of the rule. 

Methane is a key component of natural gas. Supporters of Interior’s rule say capturing methane and putting it on the natural gas market will lead to a bigger financial return for both drillers and American taxpayers, who own the land on which the companies drill. 

In a six-figure ad campaign targeting on-the-fence Republicans, the Environmental Defense Fund Action said of the measure, “It’s common sense to protect tax dollars while cutting waste and protecting our health.”

A group of local officials from Western states — which contain the vast majority of public land holdings — sent a letter to senators in February urging them to oppose the resolution. 

They said the rule “will cut natural gas waste on federal and tribal lands, will help ensure a fair return to local governments and the taxpaying public, will put our energy resources to good use and will clean up our air.”

Chris Saeger, the executive director of the Western Values Project, said that argument has been appealing to many lawmakers. 

“This rule unites people who care about a traditional set of issues related to air quality, but also people who don’t want to see the American government waste resources and tax dollars,” he said. 

“The story that we’re continuing to tell is one that has appeal to people on both sides of the aisle.” 

The methane resolution is stalling just as the Trump administration and congressional Republicans begin ramping up their focus on Interior Department rules. 

Congress has sent President Trump a resolution undoing a Bureau of Land Management planning rule, though he hasn’t signed it yet. The Trump administration last week announced that it would repeal a major bureau rule for hydraulic fracturing on federal land.

In Congress, opponents of the methane rule are optimistic that they’ll be able to overturn it — though they acknowledge there’s work to be done.

“We are not where we need to be, but we’re working on it,” said Senate Majority Whip John CornynJohn Cornyn15 senators miss votes despite McConnell's criticism of absentees Sen. Warner to introduce amendment limiting Trump’s ability to revoke security clearances Sentencing reform deal heats up, pitting Trump against reliable allies MORE (R-Texas). “We’re not ready.”

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofePence announces first steps in establishing 'Space Force' EPA chief: Obama car rule rollback would save consumers 0B EPA’s Wheeler gets warmer welcome at Senate hearing MORE (R-Okla.), a cosponsor of the legislation, predicted Democratic support would help push the resolution over the top.

“You’ve got some Democrats who would be dramatically enhanced if they support it,” he said.

“There’s no rational reason not to vote for it,” added Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopPlan to turn to imported natural gas will cost Puerto Rico dearly The Hill's 12:30 Report Dems reverse course on White House parks plan MORE (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee and sponsor of the House’s legislation. He said neither Graham nor Collins understands that additional pipeline capacity would obviate the need for the rule.

“Sen. Graham doesn’t live in the West, and doesn’t understand these issues, clearly.”