Ethanol fight complicates push to repeal Obama drilling rule
A handful of GOP senators have said they might hold up legislation to repeal an Obama administration oil and natural gas drilling rule to secure a vote on an ethanol policy change.
The group, led by Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Thune (R-S.D.), have long pushed legislation to overturn federal policy that effectively prevents sales of gasoline with 15 percent ethanol — known as E15 — during the summer months due to volatility concerns.
Now they want to trade a Senate vote on that bill for a vote on a resolution that would overturn limits on methane emissions from oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.
Thune said Wednesday that he and his allies tried and failed to get the provision into the omnibus spending bill that was unveiled Sunday and will get a vote this week. Since the methane legislation is a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution, it cannot be combined into a single bill with the ethanol policy change.
“We tried to get it included in the omni, unsuccessfully. So we’re looking now for other vehicles and seeing … how methane fits into that picture,” Thune said.
Lobbyists familiar with the discussions say that Thune, Grassley, Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) and Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) are leading the charge for the ethanol vote.
“I can’t give you an update on it,” Grassley said on Wednesday.
“I can say, as of yesterday, no,” there isn’t a deal, he said, adding, “but if there’s been anything done overnight, I don’t know.”
Fischer declined to say whether she is involved in the move to exchange a vote on methane for the ethanol provision, only noting that she is the lead sponsor of the ethanol legislation.
“I think it’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” she said.
Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), a strong supporter of the methane legislation, said the ethanol change makes sense and he wants to resolve it. But it should be dealt with separately, he said.
“I think it’s something we can straighten out, but I don’t think that should be a problem as far as the vote that we’re going to have on the CRA,” he told reporters. “I think that’s an issue we can get figured out, but it would obviously have to be separate from this.”
Time is running out for the methane resolution. Under the terms of the Congressional Review Act, which provides the Senate a window of 60 legislative days to overrule a regulation, the Senate has a May 11 deadline for passing the bill, Hoeven said on Tuesday.
Even before the ethanol issue rose to the surface, Republican supporters of the methane resolution have struggled to secure the votes they need to move it to the floor.
Two Republican senators — Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — have indicated opposition to the methane bill, meaning supporters can only afford to lose one more vote before the resolution flounders.
Four senators are believed to be undecided on the measure: Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Rob Portman (R-Ohio), Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). If any of them decide to oppose the resolution, it will fall short of the 51-vote threshold Republicans need for passage.
Outside groups have waged a lobbying war over the methane rule, an Obama administration effort to limit venting and flaring of methane pollution from drilling sites on federal land.
The oil industry support the CRA resolution, saying it would unwind a regulation that could hamstring producers who are already working to cut down on methane leaks on their own.
Environmentalists say the rule is necessary for limiting emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas with 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.
The White House has not telegraphed its position on the resolution, though Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), its lead sponsor, said he expects President Trump would sign it.
Trump has signed 12 other CRA resolutions stripping rules issued late in the Obama administration from the books. Trump signed an executive order in March to start undoing numerous Obama rules, including the methane one, though that process goes through agency rulemaking and would take much longer than an instantaneous congressional effort.
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