Oil and gas operations often burn off excess methane.

WildEarth Guardians/Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Senate fails to repeal methane control rule in final antiregulation vote

A Republican push to kill an Obama-era rule restricting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry fell short today. In a razor-thin 49–51 vote, the Senate rejected a resolution overturning the so-called methane rule.

The vote comes just as the clock runs out on a tool Republicans have used to do away with 14 regulations issued in the last months of the Obama administration. Thursday is the last day for Congress to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which gives Congress 60 working days to overturn new regulations. Until this year, the act had been used only once—in 2001—to overturn a workplace ergonomics rule.

The surprise deciding vote in the methane rule came from Senator John McCain (R–AZ). In a statement, McCain said although he has concerns about the current regulations, using the CRA would tie the hands of agencies, blocking them from issuing any “similar” rule in the future. “I believe that the public interest is best served if the Interior Department issues a new rule to revise and improve the BLM [Bureau of Land Management] methane rule,” he said. Two other Republican senators, Lindsey Graham (R–SC) and Susan Collins (R–ME), had previously announced their opposition to the bill.

A handful of other science- and environment-related regulations, however, didn’t get a reprieve. The list of rules brought down with the CRA this year includes those that placed tighter restrictions for coal mining impacts on rivers and streams, banned some hunting practices inside national wildlife refuges in Alaska, and changed how BLM develops plans for managing much of the 100 million hectares of land under its control.

Here are some details:

  • Stream protection rule: targeted stream impacts from coal mining, particularly mountaintop removal and underground mining commonly used in the Appalachian region. It would have required more environmental monitoring, and imposed restrictions on how mining could affect streams flowing outside the mine area. Environmental groups defended the measure as an update to regulations dating back to 1983. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) claimed it would have little impact on coal employment. The coal industry, however, warned it could cost thousands of jobs.
  • Alaska hunting rule: banned certain methods for hunting predators including wolves and bears inside federally owned wildlife refuges in Alaska. The prohibitions covered hunting from airplanes and helicopters, using live traps or poisoned bait, and killing the animals near their dens or cubs. Much of the dispute revolved around how much control state wildlife managers should have over predator management inside federal refuges. Whereas federal officials have focused chiefly on managing wildlife for biodiversity, state officials are more concerned about controlling predators to increase game animal numbers.

A handful of other regulations caught the eyes of some in this Congress, leading to resolutions aimed at a CRA repeal. But they never received full votes in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Targets of those failed CRA resolutions included an EPA rule adding more safety requirements for chemical plants housing toxic or flammable chemicals, Interior Department regulations around oil drilling in the Arctic and in wildlife refuges, and an EPA rule reducing emissions from coal-fired power plants in Utah to protect air quality in national parks there.