Senate Restores Obama Era Methane Regulations Using Congressional Review Act

Methane Flare, Harris County, Texas Photo: Jim Evans, Wikimedia CC

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

Using a rare procedure that allows Congress to reverse rules made late in a President’s term, the Senate has approved a bill restoring methane rules that were previously rolled back by President Trump. The old rules targeted methane leaks from new wells and pipelines and reduced a huge percentage of methane emissions.  After the 52-42 victory (three Republicans voted in favor of the bill — Senators Collins, Graham, and Portman), environmentalists celebrate the return of limits on one of the most potent greenhouse gasses. The bipartisan resolution also has the support of many major oil and gas companies. Experts say this decision will help the Biden administration’s plans to cut carbon emissions by 50% by 2030.  The House is expected also to pass the measure.

Why This Matters: The Trump administration’s rollbacks cost the U.S. much-needed time to cut its carbon emissions. Cutting methane emissions could be one of the most effective ways to catch up because methane can absorb up to 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide. 60% of methane emissions come from human activity, and it’s possible to eliminate nearly all of them with some grit and innovation. The same companies that Trump granted methane waivers to are now supporting restoring regulations, and polls show that the public wants leaking oil and gas wells cleaned up. This decision isn’t just a product of necessity, but a product of a changing America.

All Aboard

The resolution was sponsored by Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ed Markey (D-MA.), and Angus King (I-ME) under the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to review rule changes made in the last days of the previous presidential administration. Democrats in Congress had never used the CRA, which was passed in 1996, until now.  The restored rule requires companies to check every six months for methane leaks from pipelines, storage tanks and other equipment installed after 2015 — and plug any leak within 30 days after it is detected. 

Oil giants BP, Shell, Cheniere, and Occidental expressed support for the bill. “I believe this is the most important environmental vote of this decade,” said King. The bill officially reinstates the 2012 and 2016 Oil and Natural Gas New Source Performance Standards set during the Obama administration to govern oil production and processing. Heinrich told Reuters that because these regulations target methane leaks from new wells and pipelines, they will help mitigate a “lion’s share” of methane emissions.

Next week, the United Nations is expected to release a report calling for massive cuts to methane emissions to halt global temperature rise. Advocates say global efforts to cut methane are imperative to avoiding climate disaster. “There’s no chance whatsoever to meet our climate targets if we don’t deal with the methane emissions that this report highlights,” warned Jonathan Banks, the international director for methane at Clean Air Task Force. EPA Administrator Michael Regan has expressed that future methane rules due in September will likely be even more ambitious than the ones restored by the Senate and play a key role in meeting the goals of the Paris agreement.


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