Three Republicans join with Democrats in vote to reinstate rule on powerful pollutant rolled back by Trump

Louise Boyle
·3-min read
 (AFP via Getty Images)
(AFP via Getty Images)

The Senate has voted for reinstating an Obama-era methane rule after it was rolled back by the Trump administration.

The vote was supported by Democrats but no Republicans with the exceptions of Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Senator Susan Collins of Maine, and Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, who voted with colleagues across the aisle.

The resolution will bring back limits on the potent greenhouse gas’s release from oil and gas fields, an important part of President Joe Biden’s plans to tackle the climate crisis.

A similar measure is pending in the House and expected to be approved next month, when it will then be signed by Mr Biden.

Former president Donald Trump had relaxed the 2016 rule which targeted methane emissions from fossil fuel drilling.

Mr Trump’s reversal was finalized by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in September under then administrator, Andrew Wheeler, who claimed the change would “strengthen and promote American energy″ and save companies tens of millions of dollars in compliance costs.

The methane rollback was viewed as one of the most grievous parts of Mr Trump’s dismantling of dozens of environmental and climate policies.

While conversations on tackling the climate crisis have centered around cutting carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, methane is a powerful pollutant with about 80 times the impact on global heating as CO2 over 20 years.

A summary of a UN report due next month noted that acting aggressively to reduce methane emissions now could help the world to more rapidly meet its 2050 climate targets and play an important role in avoiding catastrophic heating.

“I think it’s just unnecessary emissions that they can do something about, and they’ll need to do it,” Sen. Graham said Wednesday, ahead of the vote. In 2017, he also voted against his party’s attempt to reverse the methane rule.

On Wednesday, the bill’s co-sponsor, Independent Senator Angus King of Maine, tweeted: “Reinstating regulations on methane emissions is the low-hanging fruit of climate action; a simple move that will make a major impact, with support from environmental groups and industry leaders alike.

“It is our duty to #ActOnClimate; today, we will do exactly that.”

The resolution was co-sponsored by Senator King, Democratic Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn some regulations only in place for a short time.

Senator Heinrich said companies, including Shell Oil Co., Occidental Petroleum and Cheniere Energy Inc, supported reinstatement of the Obama-era rule.

“It’s sort of inertia and dogma at this point” by Republicans to oppose the methane rule, he told the AP.

Republican Senator Shelley Moore Capito, of West Virginia, claimed in an op-ed for the Washington Times last week that “increased natural gas production actually helped lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions”.

However, a 2020 Gas Index report, by NGO Global Energy Monitor, found that the EPA was substantially underestimating the methane leakage from natural gas, a fossil fuel largely composed of the powerful pollutant.

On average across all sectors, The Gas Index calculated the methane leakage rate is 72 per cent higher than the EPA value, the NGO report found.

President Biden’s $2.3trillion “American Jobs Plan” infrastructure bill intends to invest $16 billion in putting thousands of people to work plugging orphan oil and gas wells, and cleaning up abandoned mines, to reduce methane and brine leaks.

Cementing shut drilling wells is a popular policy with both environmental groups and the fossil fuel industry, who see it as an area for growing business.

Reinstating the methane rule would be another signal to the world, ahead of UN climate talks in November, that the US is serious in its renewed pursuit of meeting climate goals.

At the opening of the White House’s Leaders Summit last week, Mr Biden pledged that the US will cut emissions as much as 52 per cent by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.

This report has been updated following the Senate vote

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