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Senate Aims to Roll Back Trump’s Methane Emissions Rule (1)

March 25, 2021, 3:50 PMUpdated: March 25, 2021, 7:41 PM

The Senate will take up a resolution in April to reinstate an Obama-era rule limiting harmful methane emissions from oil and gas drilling, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Thursday.

Former President Donald Trump last year reversed former President Barack Obama’s 2016 methane rule, saying it was a burden on industry. Trump’s elimination of Obama’s curbs on methane emissions from new oil and gas wells was seen as a blow to efforts to address climate change.

“The Senate will take up a Congressional Review Act measure to reinstate the common sense regulation of methane emissions to fight climate change,” Schumer said in remarks on the Senate floor about the disapproval resolution. Schumer sent a “Dear Colleague” letter today outlining next month’s agenda after Congress returns from a two-week recess, which includes the measure.

Democrats plan to use the 1996 Congressional Review Act, a law that allows Congress to scrap federal rules finalized within the previous 60 legislative days, to attempt to reverse Trump’s action.

Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) is the lead sponsor of the resolution, introduced in the chamber on Thursday. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Scott Peters (D-Calif.), and Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) will offer the measure in the House on Friday, the lawmakers said in a statement.

“It’s a very serious public health issue,” in parts of New Mexico, Heinrich said during an online event Thursday on clean energy jobs with Third Way, a public-policy think tank. “In addition, it’s a huge waste of a valuable resource. There’s a reason the best-in-class producers don’t lose nearly as much methane because they’re investing, they want to keep that, that’s their product, that’s what they sell.”

Heinrich added that the Trump administration rule “was running counter to even what we were hearing from many of the industry leaders.”

‘Fast Track’ Procedure

The Congressional Review Act gives Congress a “fast track” process to overturn recent regulatory actions, allowing the Senate to act with a simple, filibuster-proof majority. It also would bar President Joe Biden and future administrations from reissuing similar rules, unless specifically authorized by Congress.

Earlier this week, the chairs of the Senate and House labor committees moved to use the CRA to repeal a rule governing how employers can resolve workplace bias claims.

BGOV OnPoint: Democrats Eye Law to Overturn Trump Rules

“The Trump Administration’s decision to rollback methane standards hurt our communities and the planet,” Peters said in a statement. “Methane and other super pollutants are more harmful than carbon dioxide and cause some of the greatest damage to our environment. The resolution we introduced underlines the EPA’s existing authority to regulate methane emissions—a critical and immediate step to tackle the climate crisis.”

Despite Trump’s rule, many oil and gas companies have already been limiting methane emissions from their operations.

Legal Implications

Lawsuits over the action may be out of the question for critics, said Center for Progressive Reform senior policy analyst James Goodwin. He cited numerous barriers to the courtroom, including standing issues and a “quirky” provision in the Act that precludes legal challenges against decisions that arise from initiating the CRA.

“It would appear that that provision would bar any judicial review of questions arising from the implementation of the Congressional Review Act, including whether or not something violates that ‘salt the earth’ provision,” Goodwin said, referring to the caveat that bars the creation of “substantially similar” laws.

Democrats could be banking on the idea that the similar rulemaking provision will be read narrowly and leave room for regulatory action. But Goodwin noted that a too-broad reading from a conservative judge could bar rulemaking on methane entirely.

Even though CRA proponents see that route as a less risky legal option than administrative rulemaking that would likely face an immediate challenge, Goodwin said lawmakers aren’t eliminating the risk but trading it in for a different kind.

“At the end of the day, you’ve got to decide which legal risk you’re comfortable with,” he said.

(Updated throughout to include Schumer's letter, comments from Heinrich, and legal implications of the CRA.)

With assistance from Nancy Ognanovich and Jennifer Hijazi

To contact the reporter on this story: Kellie Lunney in Washington at klunney@bloombergindustry.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Zachary Sherwood at zsherwood@bgov.com; Anna Yukhananov at ayukhananov@bloombergindustry.com

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