Repeal of BLM methane rule will pass Senate — Barrasso

By Kellie Lunney, Geof Koss | 04/27/2017 07:25 AM EDT

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) vows that the Senate will pass a bill killing BLM's methane regulations next week.

Senate Environment and Public Works Chairman John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) vows that the Senate will pass a bill killing BLM's methane regulations next week. Photo courtesy of C-SPAN.

Will Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote next week to pass a Senate resolution repealing a controversial Obama-era rule regulating methane waste on public lands?

Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told reporters yesterday that he was looking forward to a floor vote next week on his measure (S.J. Res. 11), which would roll back a November 2016 Interior Department rule that curbs greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas flaring, venting and leakage on public and tribal lands.

Asked how he finally managed to secure the necessary 51st vote to ensure passage on the resolution after months of arm-twisting Republican and Democratic holdouts, the Wyoming senator said, "I thought you only needed 50 and a vice president." Then he laughed.


Joking aside, it’s certainly a possibility. Pence last month cast the tie-breaking vote for a CRA resolution that repealed an Obama rule requiring states and localities to provide Title X funding for family planning and women’s health care to clinics (like Planned Parenthood) that perform abortions.

But Barrasso, who chairs the Environment and Public Works Committee, was cryptic on why he was so confident about a successful outcome, simply saying: "It will pass. The president will sign it."

Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.), who has been involved in amassing support for S.J. Res. 11, said yesterday there was a "good chance" the vote would happen next week and that Republicans had "at least the 51 we need." When asked whose mind he might have changed, he chuckled. "Well, we’ll see. I would never single them out, but we’ve been working hard, and I think we’ve got what we need."

The measure to overturn the Bureau of Land Management methane rule is one of several such resolutions that Republicans in both chambers have introduced during this legislative session using the 1996 Congressional Review Act to roll back Obama-era regulations that they argue are burdensome and illustrative of the federal government’s overreach on energy and environmental issues. So far, President Trump has signed into law 13 disapproval resolutions under the CRA, four of them directly related to natural resources.

The deadline for rolling back the previous administration’s "midnight" regulations expires in roughly two weeks, on May 9 or 10, which puts pressure on lawmakers to hold a vote soon.

"If the Senate doesn’t act by mid-May, it will be up to BLM to unwind the rule through using the formal regulatory process, which could tie the agency up for months, draining it of limited resources, keeping staff from focusing on other priorities, and almost guaranteeing additional legal challenges from environmental activists," Robert Dillon, vice president of communications at the American Council for Capital Formation, wrote in a Tuesday blog post. "That’s an outcome that should be avoided at all costs."

Dillon is a former staffer for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska).

Those for and against

Senators’ positions on S.J. Res. 11 have not necessarily split cleanly along party lines, stalling the measure’s momentum in the upper chamber. The House voted to kill the BLM rule in February in a 221-191 vote, mostly along party lines. Three Democrats voted in favor, and 11 Republicans were against it.

Sens. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) are still publicly undecided on repealing the methane rule, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) has said previously that he’s weighing arguments on both sides.

Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina are not expected to vote for the resolution, adding to the Republican leadership’s struggle to garner the necessary votes to pass the measure. Another complication: Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) has been recovering from back surgery this spring and hasn’t been around regularly for votes.

Republicans generally have argued that in addition to the methane rule being burdensome and ineffective, U.S. EPA — not BLM — has the authority to curb emissions under the Clean Air Act. Meanwhile, Democrats counter that the resolution is a gift to wealthy GOP donors and that methane reductions have occurred in other energy production arenas, like transportation, but not in public land extraction.

Yesterday, 113 local elected officials, including mayors from Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah and the Ute Mountain Tribe, urged Senate leadership not to use the CRA to overturn the BLM methane rule.

"The CRA is a blunt tool that, if successful, would prevent any ‘substantially similar’ rule from being issued, allowing the oil and natural gas industry to continue to waste hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of taxpayer owned resources every year, and use outdated, wasteful technologies," the letter said, arguing that the rule "protects the interest of communities and our constituents across the country."

But opponents of the rule have called it redundant, as some states already have regulations in place that minimize methane emissions, and industry has deployed technologies to reduce emissions.

Reporter Hannah Hess contributed.