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 Sidney McCainGOP strategist donates to Alabama Democrat Meghan McCain knocks Bannon: 'Who the hell are you' to criticize Romney? Dems demand Tillerson end State hiring freeze, consult with Congress MORE (R-Ariz.) to vote against it.

McCain joined Sens. Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsOvernight Health Care: 3.6M signed up for ObamaCare in first month | Ryan pledges 'entitlement reform' next year | Dems push for more money to fight opioids Study: ObamaCare bills backed by Collins would lower premiums Right scrambles GOP budget strategy MORE (R-Maine), Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamGOP and Dems bitterly divided by immigration We are running out of time to protect Dreamers US trade deficit rises on record imports from China 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 Hussein ObamaPatagonia files suit against Trump cuts to Utah monuments Former Dem Tenn. gov to launch Senate bid: report Eighth Franken accuser comes forward as Dems call for resignation 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 PenceMichael (Mike) Richard PencePence allies worried he'll be called to answer questions from Mueller: report Trump thought it was ‘low class’ for Pence to bring pets to VP residence: report Pence told RNC he could replace Trump on ticket after 'Access Hollywood' tape came out: report 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 Anthony BarrassoScalise: House, Senate ‘pretty close’ on tax bill Top GOP senator: House and Senate 'not that far apart' on tax bill Sunday shows preview: Republicans take victory lap on taxes 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 UdallThomas (Tom) Stewart UdallAvalanche of Democratic senators say Franken should resign Dem senator slams Trump's 'moral authority' after 'Pocahontas' remark Overnight Cybersecurity: Kushner was contacted about WikiLeaks before election | Tech experts blast Trump's 'extreme vetting' plan | Senate passes defense bill with measure to modernize feds' IT 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 CornynMcConnell names Senate GOP tax conferees Air Force makes criminal reporting changes after Texas massacre We need a better pathway for allowing civilians to move guns across state lines MORE (R-Texas) and John HoevenJohn Henry HoevenMcConnell works to salvage tax bill GOP to reduce tax relief by 0B to win over deficit hawks  The Hill's Whip List: Where Republicans stand on Senate tax bill 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 ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinTrump rips Dems a day ahead of key White House meeting Senate panel moves forward with bill to roll back Dodd-Frank Wealthy outsiders threaten to shake up GOP Senate primaries 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 GoreTrump’s isolationism on full display at international climate talks Overnight Energy: Trump officials defend fossil fuels, nuclear at UN climate summit | Dems commit to Paris goals | Ex-EPA lawyers slam 'sue and settle' policy Al Gore: A new president in 2020 could keep US in Paris agreement MORE on Paris climate pact

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