Congress Is About to Repeal a Repeal on Methane Regulations

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Martin Heinrich participate in a news conference about the Senate vote on methane regulation.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Martin Heinrich participate in a news conference about the Senate vote on methane regulation.
Photo: Sarah Silbiger (Getty Images)

Joe Biden’s America continues to descend into anarchy. The latest injustice perpetrated by congressional Democrats on behalf of the president: Americans will no longer get to breath so much methane-laden air. It follows other hostile decisions such as propping up Big Energy-Saving Efficient Furnace and letting innocent Italian restauranteurs live sanction-free.

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On Wednesday, Democrats will use what’s known as the Congressional Review Act to overturn a Trump administration decision to loosen restrictions on fixing methane leaks that were finalized last year. The act allows lawmakers to overturn rules put in place by the executive branch within a certain time limit after they’re finalized, and this is the first time Democrats have ever used it. (Republicans invoked it 16 times at the start of Trump’s presidency and once in the Bush years, strangely, to repeal a Clinton era ergonomics rule.)

That they’re choosing to focus on a climate rule, particularly methane, is indicative of both Donald Trump’s obsession with deregulating polluting industries and Democrats’ continued push to actually do something about climate rather than dithering. It also is a big environmental justice win given the amount of polluting infrastructure that sits in communities of color and could be one of the most important pieces of climate legislation passed to date.

“The fact that we are using our first CRA on the methane rule shows how important it is and shows the difference in having a Democratic majority when it comes to climate change because we are able to do these things,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said at a press conference ahead of the vote.

Trump had eased regulations on methane leaks from oil wells, pipelines, and other infrastructure-linked oil and gas. Methane is a greenhouse gas with 80 times the potency of carbon dioxide, and it’s risen dramatically in the atmosphere, particularly thanks to the fracking boom led by the U.S. The plus, though, is that reducing emissions will have very quick, tangible benefits to the climate. Unlike carbon dioxide, methane only lingers in the atmosphere for a decade or so, meaning cutting emissions now could substantially reduce near-term global warming.

The Senate vote is expected to be bipartisan, with Republican Sen. Susan Collins announcing she would join Democrats in voting to repeal the rule. The House has to vote on it as well, but Democrats have a larger majority there, and it’s expected to pass even without Republican support.

It’s also a rare decision that brings together environmental groups and oil companies. And the timing couldn’t be more urgent. In the past week alone, the forthcoming United Nations report, viewed by the New York Times, will call for the world to take on methane with a quickness in order to buy time to address more long-lasting climate pollutants like carbon dioxide. Unaffiliated research published on Tuesday shows the world could avert roughly 0.45 degrees Fahrenheit (0.25 degrees Celsius) of planetary heating by mid-century.

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Of course, ending fossil fuel subsidies, winding down the fossil fuel industry, and revoking permits for pipelines so we don’t even have to worry about methane leaks in the first place is an even more important step to take for lawmakers. But the methane rule is a start, at least, so let’s go ahead and give lawmakers a little tip of the cap (but not a bow or curtsy, lest they think this is enough).

“Methane is the low-hanging fruit of climate action,” Sen. Angus King said. “It is the simplest, most straightforward thing that we can do immediately to make a significant change in terms of greenhouse gases both here and abroad. If we lead if we do this, then it enables other countries to do this. If we don’t do it, other countries are going to say, ‘why should we do it? You’re not doing it.’ What’s so important about the vote today is it’s not only a vote that will affect us here in this country, but I believe it will have ripples and repercussions around the world.”

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In short, basically, everyone is ready to do this except a small cadre of hardcore libertarians (i.e. a good chunk of congressional Republicans) and polluters who really do want to get away with anything. But because the Congressional Review Act only requires a majority vote, the minority that is Republican extremists can’t hijack the process. It’s almost as if having a functional and rational majority-rule legislature makes sense for getting important things done. Hmm.

Managing editor at Earther, writing about climate change, environmental justice, and, occasionally, my cat.

DISCUSSION

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An interesting report commissioned by the Department of Energy through the National Renewable Energy Lab (NREL) back in 2015 for some background. Title of report is below to google for a link:

“Estimating U.S. Methane Emissions from the Natural Gas Supply Chain: Approaches, Uncertainties, Current Estimates, and Future Studies”

The study looked at the supply chain from well field to end use. Anyway, while comprehensive, it’s a pretty breezy read. There’s a nomenclature section, too.