Senate reinstates Obama-era Controls on methane

4 May 2021

The Senate voted on 28 April to effectively reinstate an Obama-era regulation designed to clamp down on emissions of methane, a powerful, climate-warming pollutant that will have to be controlled to meet president Biden’s ambitious climate change promises.

Taking a hint from congressional Republicans who in 2017 made liberal use of a once-obscure law to roll back Obama-era regulations, Democrats invoked the law to turn back a Trump methane rule enacted late last summer. That rule had eliminated Obama-era controls on leaks of methane, a major source of which is seepage from oil and gas wells.

The 52-42 vote was the first time congressional Democrats have used the law, called the Congressional Review Act, which prohibits Senate filibusters and ensures one administration’s last-minute regulations can be swiftly overturned with a simple majority vote in both chambers of Congress. Three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio — joined Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to vote for the measure.

In a statement of support for the vote, the White House called methane “a potent climate-disrupting greenhouse gas that is responsible for approximately one-third of the global warming” and added that “addressing methane pollution” is “an urgent and essential step.”

Republicans had used the procedure to wipe out 14 late-term Obama administration rules in the first 16 weeks of the Trump administration, but this latest vote was the first time Democrats have used the procedure to undo the policy of a Republican  administration. 

Many major oil and gas companies have come out in support of methane regulations: Exxon, Shell and BP had actually urged the Trump administration to keep the Obama methane rules in place. Those companies have invested millions of dollars to promote natural gas as a cleaner fuel than coal in the nation’s power plants. They fear that unrestricted leaks of methane could undermine that marketing message and hurt demand.

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