Senate votes to nix Trump rule limiting methane regulation
The Senate voted Wednesday to undo a Trump administration rule that rescinded methane emissions limits and made it harder to regulate releases of the greenhouse gas from the oil and gas sector.
In the 52-42 vote, three Republicans voted with Democrats to get rid of the rule: Sens. Rob Portman (Ohio), Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Susan Collins (Maine).
The methane rule is the first Trump-era rule that Democrats will take on using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), a tool that lets them eliminate regulations completed in the prior 60 legislative days with a simple majority vote.
“The fact that we are using our first CRA on the methane rule shows how important it is and shows the difference in having a Democratic majority when it comes to climate change,” Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a press conference ahead of the vote.
The New York Democrat called it “one of the most important votes, not only that this Congress has cast but has been cast in the last decade, in terms of our fight against global warming.”
The measure will next go to the House for a vote, where a key lawmaker is already pledging to take it on.
“I applaud the Senate for taking decisive action today to restore the methane rule,” said a statement from Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.), who chairs the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “I look forward to the House acting on this important legislation soon.”
The congressional effort to get rid of the methane rule was spearheaded by Sens. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Angus King (I-Maine) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.).
“Regulating methane is the low-hanging fruit of climate action. It is the simplest, most straight-forward thing that we can do immediately to make a significant change,” King said at the press conference.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that is significantly more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to warming the planet, but lasts for less time in the atmosphere.
The rule in question got rid of methane emission standards for the oil and gas sector altogether, and also got rid of limits for substances known as volatile organic compounds from oil and gas transmission and storage.
When it promoted the rule under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimated that it would increase methane emissions by 400,000 short tons over the next decade.
The rule’s opponents argued that on top of that, it’s particularly pernicious because it would make it harder to regulate methane by requiring the EPA to prove that the releases from each type of emitter that it regulates contribute significantly to climate change.
“EPA could certainly do it, but it would be time consuming and it would be resource consuming,” said Dan Grossman, senior director of state advocacy for the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Program.
“It’s a misinterpretation of the Clean Air Act that was really designed to create litigation vulnerability for future methane regulation,” Grossman added.
But it’s not just environmentalists calling for increased regulation of methane. Major oil companies like Shell and BP have expressed opposition to the Trump-era rule.
However, the former administration argued that it would mostly help smaller and medium-sized companies, which they characterized as being “heavily” burdened by Obama-era methane regulations.
“Regulatory burdens put into place by the Obama-Biden Administration fell heavily on small and medium-sized energy businesses,” then-EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement at the time. “Today’s regulatory changes remove redundant paperwork, align with the Clean Air Act, and allow companies the flexibility to satisfy leak-control requirements by complying with equivalent state rules.”
The White House said in a statement of support for Congress’s action Wednesday that it will “clear the pathway for EPA to evaluate opportunities to promulgate even stronger standards … to address dangerous methane and other pollution from both new and existing sources across the oil and gas sector.”
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), who opposes the Democrats’ action, took issue with this in a Wednesday floor speech.
“Passage of this resolution would lay the groundwork for a planned regulatory war on oil and gas,” Capito said.
“Before even starting a rulemaking to ask public comments, the Biden administration has made up its mind to regulate much more aggressively,” she added.
During the press conference on Wednesday, Schumer also vowed that the vote would be part of a “long chain of activities” the Senate will take to “fight the menace of global warming.”
— Updated 6:31 p.m.