WASHINGTON – Congressional Democrats have approved a measure reinstating rules aimed at limiting climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas drilling, a rare effort by Democrats to use the legislative branch to overturn a regulatory rollback under President Donald Trump.
The House gave final legislative approval Friday to a resolution that would undo a Trump-era environmental rule that relaxed requirements of a 2016 Obama administration rule targeting methane emissions from leaks and flares in oil and gas wells.
The resolution was approved, 229-191, and now goes to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it. Twelve Republicans joined 217 Democrats to support the measure.
Democrats and environmentalists called the methane rule one of the Trump administration’s most egregious actions to deregulate U.S. businesses and said its removal would help launch a broader effort by the Biden administration and Congress to tackle climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, packing a stronger punch in the short term than carbon dioxide.
“Congress just delivered its first bipartisan win for the climate,'' said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “Controlling methane is a winning proposition for all sides because it cuts pollution and reduces waste.''
The resolution was approved under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn certain regulations that have been in place for a short time. The Trump methane rule was finalized last September.
Action on methane was one of just three Trump-era rules targeted by the Democratic-controlled Congress under the review law, a sharp contrast to 14 Obama-era rules repealed by congressional Republicans in the first year of the Trump administration.
Other rules approved by Democrats targeted Trump-era actions loosening regulations on payday lenders and another that Democrats said gave employers an unfair advantage over workers in settling discrimination claims.
Rep. Diana DeGette D-Colo., who sponsored the methane measure, called its approval “a big win in our overall effort to combat the climate crisis, and a critical first step toward sufficiently reducing our nation’s overall methane emissions.”
If Biden and Congress are “going to be serious about combating this climate crisis, we have to take steps now to cut the amount of methane in our atmosphere,” DeGette said. The legislation will keep more than 1.6 million tons of methane out of the air that all Americans breathe and require oil and gas companies “to take the steps necessary to better protect our planet and the public’s health" by reinstating methane standards put in place in 2016, she said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said the action on methane was part of an effort by Congress to reassert its own power. She called the Congressional Review Act "one of the Congress’s most important tools ... to deliver for the people and to reclaim our authority under the Constitution, upholding the balance of powers that is the foundation of our American democracy.''
Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla., chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said the measure approved Friday "will restore common-sense safeguards to limit methane pollution from oil and gas production. It’s a modest and straightforward step in the right direction, but it’s a very important one.''
Republicans disagreed, saying the measure took unfair aim at oil and gas companies that are already working to reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases.
Rep. Pete Stauber, R-Minn., said the repeal measure advanced “radical activist priorities” while empowering foreign oil producers in the Middle East and Russia.
Rep. Yvette Herrell, R-N.M, said the measure would "nickel and dime the most essential business in my district,'' oil and gas producers who she said could be forced out of business by excessive government regulations.
Those statements were at odds with the oil and gas industry, which largely supported the Obama-era rule. In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency curbed methane emissions at facilities built or modified since 2015, requiring companies to deploy technology to detect and fix leaks at oil and gas wells. Many large energy companies have embraced methane capture as a way to save money and promote natural gas as a cleaner option than coal in the nation’s power plants.
The action by Congress clears the way for the EPA to develop rules to regulate methane emissions from new and existing wells, including hundreds of thousands of older wells that are not subject to federal regulation under current law.
Oil giant BP said Friday it supports direct federal regulation of methane emissions.
“Keeping methane in the pipes is good for the planet and for business. It means that we can sell it as a cleaner fuel source rather than losing it,'' said Mary Streett, a senior vice president at BP. “We’re pleased that Congress recognizes the importance of this objective and we encourage the president to sign the resolution.″
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry's top lobbying group, said it will work with the Biden administration to support direct regulation of methane from new and existing sources.
“We have an opportunity to build on the progress the industry has made in driving down methane emissions through technological advancement, and we are committed to finding common ground on cost-effective government policies,'' said API spokeswoman Jessica Szymanski.