The window may be closing on the Trump administration’s attempt to repeal Obama-era regulations on methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
The repeal is based on the provisions of the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives a new Congress 60 working days (it’s Congress, so we use the term loosely—Ed.) to overturn regulations issued in the late days of an earlier administration. That deadline passes around May 11. But while the methane repeal passed the U.S. House in February, it hasn’t been brought to a vote in the Senate, where Republicans aren’t confident that they have the 50 votes they need (with a tie-breaker from Vice President Mike Pence) to pass it.
The stakes around the repeal effort are high. Methane is a shorter-lived but far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Last year, President Barack Obama joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Peña-Nieto in a pledge to jointly reduce their countries’ methane emissions 40 to 45% by 2025.
Earlier this week, Politico Morning Energy reported that “whether the Senate will be able to axe a BLM [Bureau of Land Management] rule targeting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling on public lands remains as hazy as ever,” despite confident words from Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), who’s been pushing the repeal vote.
“Environmentalists and Senate aides hoping to defeat the resolution are eyeing four publicly undecided senators—Democrat Heidi Heitkamp and Republicans Rob Portman, Cory Gardner, and Dean Heller,” ME notes. Sens. Lindsey Graham and Susan Collins have already signaled their opposition, so Barrasso could only afford to lose one more vote.”
With fossil interests lobbying hard for the CRA resolution, groups like the Ohio Environmental Council are pushing back. “We had 5,000 people attend a tele-town hall on the issue last week here in Ohio,” Portman’s home state, “so we know that people are concerned and want the senator to fiercely oppose any efforts to stop the methane rule,” said Executive Director Heather Taylor-Miesle.
In a letter to Senate leadership, former Interior Department solicitor John Leshy warned that “repealing this rule through the CRA will impair, if not eliminate altogether, BLM’s ability to promote recapture of wasted gas.” He added that “using the blunt instrument of the CRA might make a nice headline, but it could also forever insulate the industry from meaningful, effective regulation on this important subject, unless the Congress could muster the political will to provide new authority in new legislation.”
The fight is also playing out in states like New Mexico, where Republican Gov. Susana Martinez supports the rollback, and Colorado, where people interviewed by National Public Radio said they were sick of receiving downstream methane pollution from New Mexico’s oil and gas fields.
“In the oil and gas industry, we call that pissing in the pool,” said Wayne Warmack, a Coloradoan with 27 years of work experience in oil and gas. “For them to piss in the pool over there in New Mexico and make us swim in it here is not a good situation and does not make for good neighbours.”
“Colorado already has a strong rule,” says La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt. “And we have a methane cloud the size of Delaware over our region,” near the point where Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah intersect.
The latest word Wednesday was that the methane vote might be held up by a new legislative curveball—an effort by four corn state senators, led by Charles Grassley (R-IA) and John Thune (R-SD), to trade their support for the CRA for a provision that permits higher ethanol blends in gasoline. “The issue is a top priority for biofuel producers such as POET LLC, and industry trade groups, including the Renewable Fuels Association and the Growth Energy coalition of supporters,” Bloomberg reports. “Some oil companies oppose the change because it could translate to greater demand for ethanol, a competitor.”
A senior spokesperson for petroleum refiner Tesoro Corporation was not amused. “Refiners are unlikely willing to trade the waiver for passing the CRA on methane,” company vice president and counsel Stephen Brown told Bloomberg. “This last-minute attempt at hostage-taking by a collection of corn state senators is an unfortunate gambit that jeopardizes months of work by Senate Republican leadership to pass the CRA.”