Senate fails in attempt to repeal Obama natural gas rule

Three GOP Senators break ranks to scuttle attempt to repeal rule under the Congressional Review Act

Joshua Roberts—X01909
Senator Susan Collins (R-ME) leaves the Senate Chamber at the U.S. Capitol in Washington

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Wednesday
rejected a resolution to revoke an Obama-era rule to limit
methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands,
dealing a blow to President Donald Trump’s efforts to free the
drilling industry from what he sees as excessive environmental
The Congressional Review Act resolution received just 49
votes after Republican leaders scrambled for weeks to secure the
51 needed to pass it. The resolution would have revoked the rule
and prevented similar regulations from being introduced.
Getting the Trump administration to repeal the BLM rule had
been a top priority of the oil and gas industry. Companies said
it was unnecessary, would could cost them tens of thousands of
dollars per well and hinder production.
But not all Republicans supported the measure, in part
because it would have made regulating methane waste more
difficult in the future.
Republican Senator John McCain of Arizona made a surprise
vote against the resolution, joining fellow Republicans Lindsey
Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine in
opposition to torpedo it.
“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’,” McCain said in a statement.
He said the Interior Department should issue a new rule on
to replace the existing one on methane leaks, which he called a
public health and air quality issue.
The rule, finalized by President Barack Obama in his last
weeks in office, updated 30-year-old regulations that govern
flaring, venting and natural gas leaks from oil and gas
production. Obama’s administration said it would preserve up to
41 billion cubic feet (BCF) of natural gas per year that is
currently lost to leaks and flaring.
The American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups
have said the methane rule is unnecessary because companies have
made strides in reducing leaks on their own.
“The rule could impede U.S. energy production while reducing
local and federal revenues,” said Erik Milito, API’s Upstream
and Industry Operations Group Director.
Members of the Western Energy Alliance, which include Devon
Energy, Whiting Petroleum and EOG Resources
had also been strongly opposed to the rule.
Environmental groups hailed what they depicted as a rare
victory for the environment after several regulatory rollbacks
by the Trump administration.
“In recent months, thousands of Americans asked the Senate
to stand up for clean air and against the oil lobby, and their
efforts were successful today,” said Jamie Williams, president
of the Wilderness Society.
The Western Values Project estimated that if the rule had
been rescinded, the U.S. Treasury would have lost out on $800
million in lost potential royalties from leaked or vented
natural gas over the next decade.
Republican Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming, chairman of the
Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works who supported
the resolution to kill the rule, called on Interior Secretary
Ryan Zinke to act unilaterally to revoke it.