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 GrahamCheney unveils Turkey sanctions legislation Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — House passes resolution rebuking Trump over Syria | Sparks fly at White House meeting on Syria | Dems say Trump called Pelosi a 'third-rate politician' | Trump, Graham trade jabs War of words at the White House 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 CollinsGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem debate contenders take aim at Warren Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever 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 GardnerGOP warns Graham letter to Pelosi on impeachment could 'backfire' The Hill's Morning Report - Dem debate contenders take aim at Warren Schumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever MORE (R-Colo.) and Rob PortmanRobert (Rob) Jones PortmanTrump's GOP impeachment firewall holds strong 10 top Republicans who continue to deny the undeniable GOP braces for impeachment brawl 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 HeitkampThe Hill's Morning Report — Biden steadies in third debate as top tier remains the same Trump wins 60 percent approval in rural areas of key states Pence to push new NAFTA deal in visit to Iowa MORE (N.D.) and Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinSchumer seeks focus on health care amid impeachment fever The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by USAA — Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies Trump pushed for her ouster GOP requests update on criminal referrals prompted by 2018 Kavanaugh probe 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 CornynSuccession at DHS up in the air as Trump set to nominate new head Trying to kick tobacco again This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington MORE (R-Texas). “We’re not ready.”

Sen. James InhofeJames (Jim) Mountain InhofeSenate confirms Trump's Air Force secretary pick The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump declares 'case closed' as text messages raise new questions Top House Democrat: Trump did 'on camera' what Romney warned about 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 BishopHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban 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.”