Overnight Energy: In surprise, Senate fails to repeal methane rule

Overnight Energy: In surprise, Senate fails to repeal methane rule
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SENATE KILLS METHANE REPEAL: A GOP resolution to repeal the Obama administration's methane rule for public lands was torpedoed Wednesday by a surprise decision from Sen. John McCainJohn McCainDem senator on McCain: ‘I was trying not to jump up and down and smile’ ‘Morning Joe’: It’s ‘Failure Friday’ for Trump White House Cruz: Many Americans feel betrayed by failure to repeal ObamaCare MORE (R-Ariz.) to vote against it.

McCain joined Sens. Susan CollinsSusan CollinsDem senator on McCain: ‘I was trying not to jump up and down and smile’ Cruz: Many Americans feel betrayed by failure to repeal ObamaCare ‘House of Cards’ creator calls McCain vote an act of heroism MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey GrahamSenate ObamaCare repeal bill falls in shocking vote McCain casts crucial vote to kill 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal Senate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown MORE (R-S.C.) and all of the Senate's 48 Democrats in voting down the measure by a narrow 51 to 49 margin.

Collins and Graham had both telegraphed their intentions to vote "no" long before Wednesday's vote, but McCain hadn't.

It was the first failed vote of the Trump era, after 13 successful Congressional Review Act (CRA) votes to undo regulations former President Barack ObamaBarack ObamaMcCain casts crucial vote to kill 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal Panetta on transgender ban: Trump should pay the military a visit White House declines to apologize to Boy Scouts MORE finalized in his last months in office.

The failure of the resolution is a loss for congressional Republicans, who had targeted the methane rule as one of the main Obama regulations they wanted to reverse. Opponents of the rule argue that it unnecessarily adds costs to oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.

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But the defeat of the resolution is a victory for environmentalists, who in recent weeks put up a comprehensive fight to sway vulnerable and moderate senators against repeal.

Vice President Mike PenceMike (Michael) Richard PenceIn Pence, America’s needy finally have an ally on healthcare in the White House OPINION | Michael Steele: Yes, GOP will own ObamaCare failure An open letter to every governor on the healthcare bill MORE came to the Capitol in case his vote was needed to break a tie. Republicans went into a side room off of the Senate floor after the final vote was submitted and held the vote open, but no senator changed his or her vote.

"This was a very duplicative, unnecessary act of government interference in an area where BLM [Bureau of Land Management] had no authority," Sen. John BarrassoJohn BarrassoLive coverage: Senate begins debate on ObamaCare repeal What Trump can do to cripple ObamaCare Top Republican: Senate will vote to proceed to House healthcare bill MORE (R-Wyo.) said, telling reporters he would ask Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to withdraw the rule administratively instead.

Democrats cheered the resolution's failure, and seemed surprised that it happened.

"This is a good, solid rule, and it's a commonsense rule, and I think it prevents waste just like it was laid out to do," Sen. Tom UdallTom UdallOvernight Energy: House passes Russia sanctions deal with oil, gas fix Dem bill would ban controversial pesticide FCC chair: Trump hasn't tried to intervene on Time Warner merger MORE (D-N.M.) said on the floor. "We're preventing waste, we're doing job creation, and we're acting on the part of public health."

Read more here.

McCain's explanation: In a statement after the vote, McCain said that he opposes the BLM regulation, but that the CRA is too blunt of an instrument for undoing it, because the agency would be prohibited from writing any similar rule in the future.

"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,' according to the plain reading of the Congressional Review Act," he said.

"I believe that the public interest is best served if the Interior Department issues a new rule to revise and improve the BLM methane rule."

Bonus video: C-SPAN captured the video -- though no audio -- of a seemingly frustrated McCain discussing the matter with Sens. Barrasso, John CornynJohn CornynSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Two GOP senators back ObamaCare repeal after Ryan call Senate releases 'skinny' ObamaCare repeal bill MORE (R-Texas) and John HoevenJohn HoevenMcCain absence adds to GOP agenda’s uncertainty McCain diagnosis looms over GOP healthcare talks This week: ObamaCare repeal faces latest setback in Senate MORE (R-N.D.) before casting his "no" vote and walking out of the Senate chamber.

Watch it here.

Interior still working to repeal rule: The Interior Department indicated Wednesday that it's likely to try repealing the regulation through the rulemaking process.

Kate MacGregor, Interior's acting secretary for land and minerals, said in a statement that the agency has already identified the rule as one the agency will "suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation."

That process is part of an executive order Trump signed in March requiring agencies to reconsider or repeal rules that hurt domestic energy production.

Repealing or rewriting rules is a lengthy process, and it could take a year or more to finalize the next steps on the methane regulation. Lawsuits from greens are likely to draw out that process further, which is why Republicans and drillers had hoped to end the rule through the immediate action of a CRA disapproval resolution.

Final CRA tally: Wednesday's vote was the last one the Senate will take under the CRA because the law sets a time limit on passing disapproval resolutions. That process formally expires on Thursday.

Even though members couldn't get the methane legislation through the Senate, they still sent 13 CRA resolutions to President Trump's desk, by far the most signed into law in one session since lawmakers passed the law in the 1990s.

Environmental rules -- including those related to coal pollution, land management, hunting in Alaska and financial disclosures for drillers and miners -- were among the top targets for Republicans this session.

ATLANTIC SEISMIC TESTING COULD RESUME: Zinke announced Wednesday that Interior will formally consider letting six companies conduct seismic testing for oil and natural gas resources off the Atlantic coast.

The Wednesday decision by the Interior Department is an early step toward potential drilling in the Atlantic Ocean, reversing an Obama administration policy to reject such applications.

"Seismic surveying helps a variety of federal and state partners better understand our nation's offshore areas, including locating offshore hazards, siting of wind turbines, as well as offshore energy development," Zinke said in a statement.

"Allowing this scientific pursuit enables us to safely identify and evaluate resources that belong to the American people."

The Wednesday announcement does not necessarily mean that any permits will be approved, since they still need to go through an approval process.

The six companies had previously sought seismic testing approvals, but the Obama administration rejected them in January, leading the companies to appeal to an Interior board.

Interior is now asking that board of administrative judges to give the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management another chance to consider the requests.

Read more here.

BLANKENSHIP LEAVES PRISON, TROLLS MANCHIN: The prison sentence for disgraced former Massey Energy CEO Don Blankenship formally ended on Wednesday -- and he marked the occasion by professing his innocence and challenging Sen. Joe ManchinJoe ManchinSenate heading for late night ahead of ObamaCare repeal showdown Overnight Healthcare: Four GOP senators threaten to block 'skinny' repeal | Healthcare groups blast skinny repeal | GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate GOP single-payer amendment fails in Senate MORE (D-W.Va.) to a debate on Twitter.

"Ann Coulter free speech in news lately. She's lucky -- govt put me under $5M bond, gag order, and in prison said my speech 'troubles the US,' " Blankenship, who has long said his legal troubles are politically motivated, wrote in a series of 11 tweets on Wednesday morning.

Blankenship maintained that the Upper Big Branch mine disaster that killed 29 people in 2010 was the result of a build-up of natural gas, a theory rejected by regulators.

And he said Manchin and regulators "lied" by pointing the finger at Blankenship.

"I challenge Sen. Manchin to debate [Upper Big Branch] truth," he tweeted. "A U.S. Senator who says I have 'blood on my hands' should be man enough to face me in public."

A jury found Blankenship guilty of a misdemeanor conspiracy charge stemming from the mine disaster in December 2015, and a judge sentenced him to a year in prison the following April. That prison sentence formally ended on Wednesday, though he had spent the last month of it under house arrest.

In a statement, Manchin said "[Blankenship's] refusal to accept responsibility for his criminal actions even now only exacerbates these grieving families' pain. ... I hope that Mr. Blankenship chooses to do the right thing and disappear from the public eye."

Read more here.

AROUND THE WEB:

Glacier National Park's glaciers are melting, and likely to be gone within the course of an adult's lifetime, USA Today reports.

Another group is asking President Trump to stay in the Paris climate deal: mayors along the Mississippi River, Minnesota Public Radio reports.

East Coast regulators are set to impose new restrictions on New England lobster fishing, New Hampshire Public Radio reports.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT:

Check out Wednesday's stories ...

-Trump admin to consider offshore oil and gas testing in Atlantic
-Dakota Access pipeline leaks 84 gallons of oil in South Dakota
-Convicted coal CEO challenges Manchin to debate after leaving prison
-Senate rejects repeal of Obama drilling rule
-Trump speaks with Al GoreAl GoreOvernight Energy: Exxon sues feds over M fine | Deputy Interior pick advances | Oil concerns hold up Russia sanctions push Gore: Progressive ideas 'gaining ground' among Democrats Gore: Trump prompting 'biggest upsurge' of climate activism ever MORE on Paris climate pact

Please send tips and comments to Timothy Cama, tcama@thehill.com; and Devin Henry, dhenry@thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @Timothy_Cama@dhenry@thehill