SENATE KILLS METHANE REPEAL

May 10, 2017 by

 A GOP resolution to repeal the Obama administration’s methane rule for public lands was torpedoed Wednesday by a surprise decision from Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to vote against it.

McCain joined Sens. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and all of the Senate’s 48 Democrats in voting down the measure by a narrow 51 to 49 margin.

Collins and Graham had both telegraphed their intentions to vote “no” long before Wednesday’s vote, but McCain hadn’t.

It was the first failed vote of the Trump era, after 13 successful Congressional Review Act (CRA) votes to undo regulations former President Barack Obama finalized in his last months in office.

The failure of the resolution is a loss for congressional Republicans, who had targeted the methane rule as one of the main Obama regulations they wanted to reverse. Opponents of the rule argue that it unnecessarily adds costs to oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.

But the defeat of the resolution is a victory for environmentalists, who in recent weeks put up a comprehensive fight to sway vulnerable and moderate senators against repeal.

Vice President Mike Pence came to the Capitol in case his vote was needed to break a tie. Republicans went into a side room off of the Senate floor after the final vote was submitted and held the vote open, but no senator changed his or her vote.

“This was a very duplicative, unnecessary act of government interference in an area where BLM [Bureau of Land Management] had no authority,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said, telling reporters he would ask Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to withdraw the rule administratively instead.

Democrats cheered the resolution’s failure, and seemed surprised that it happened.

“This is a good, solid rule, and it’s a commonsense rule, and I think it prevents waste just like it was laid out to do,” Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) said on the floor. “We’re preventing waste, we’re doing job creation, and we’re acting on the part of public health.”

Read more here.

McCain’s explanation: In a statement after the vote, McCain said that he opposes the BLM regulation, but that the CRA is too blunt of an instrument for undoing it, because the agency would be prohibited from writing any similar rule in the future.

“While I am concerned that the BLM rule may be onerous, passage of the resolution would have prevented the federal government, under any administration, from issuing a rule that is ‘similar,’ according to the plain reading of the Congressional Review Act,” he said.

“I believe that the public interest is best served if the Interior Department issues a new rule to revise and improve the BLM methane rule.”

Bonus video: C-SPAN captured the video — though no audio — of a seemingly frustrated McCain discussing the matter with Sens. Barrasso, John Cornyn (R-Texas) and John Hoeven (R-N.D.) before casting his “no” vote and walking out of the Senate chamber.

Watch it here.

Interior still working to repeal rule: The Interior Department indicated Wednesday that it’s likely to try repealing the regulation through the rulemaking process.

Kate MacGregor, Interior’s acting secretary for land and minerals, said in a statement that the agency has already identified the rule as one the agency will “suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation.”

That process is part of an executive order Trump signed in March requiring agencies to reconsider or repeal rules that hurt domestic energy production.

Repealing or rewriting rules is a lengthy process, and it could take a year or more to finalize the next steps on the methane regulation. Lawsuits from greens are likely to draw out that process further, which is why Republicans and drillers had hoped to end the rule through the immediate action of a CRA disapproval resolution.

Final CRA tally: Wednesday’s vote was the last one the Senate will take under the CRA because the law sets a time limit on passing disapproval resolutions. That process formally expires on Thursday.

Even though members couldn’t get the methane legislation through the Senate, they still sent 13 CRA resolutions to President Trump’s desk, by far the most signed into law in one session since lawmakers passed the law in the 1990s.

Environmental rules — including those related to coal pollution, land management, hunting in Alaska and financial disclosures for drillers and miners — were among the top targets for Republicans this session.

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