Act Now to Stop the Repeal of the “Methane Rule”

Senate Republicans move to repeal the Methane Rule, put protection of our environment and taxpayer financial interests on the chopping block

Today, the Senate is expected to vote on a proposed repeal of the so-called “Methane Rule.” The oil and gas industry likes to light methane on fire on our public lands. It flames and wastes this natural gas to avoid the costs of capturing it. This allows the gas companies to cheat the taxpayers by avoiding millions of dollars in royalty payments to the public. The purpose of the Methane Rule was to stop this waste by limiting the amount of gas that drillers can release on public lands, requiring them to invest in the technology and infrastructure that exists that would prevent large amounts of climate change-forcing methane from spewing directly into the atmosphere.

How are they doing this and why has it escaped media coverage? The Congressional Review Act (CRA) is the rarely used piece of legislation to which Republicans have turned to to support some of the most controversial congressional votes these past few weeks. Under this law, during the 60 legislative days after any federal agency rule is finalized, either chamber of Congress can introduce a joint resolution of disapproval that, if passed by both houses and signed by the president, voids the agency rule. Use of the CRA is even more concerning because it forever bars that agency from issuing any rule that is “substantially the same” as the one voted down, no matter how significant the case for action might be, and irrespective of any new information. Until now, only one CRA resolution had ever been passed and signed into law and the act itself has never been tested in court.

Using the CRA, Congress has already voted to ax regulations protecting streams from coal mining pollution and to repeal Securities and Exchange Commission rules requiring oil and mining companies to disclose otherwise secret payments made to overseas governments. There are at least 10 CRA bills moving through the House and Senate. Many of these bills have a common theme: helping out oil, gas and coal companies at the expense of our health, environment and public lands. The Methane Rule is one of them and it could come up for a vote today.

Justifying the need for the Methane Rule, the U.S. Department of the Interior Bureau of Land Management (BLM) has stated, “Between 2009 and 2015, oil and gas producers on public and Indian lands vented, flared and leaked about 462 billion cubic feet (Bcf) of natural gas. That’s enough gas to supply about 6.2 million households for a year. States, Tribes and federal taxpayers also lose royalty revenues when natural gas is wasted – as much as $23 million annually in royalty revenue for the Federal Government and the States that share it.” BLM further calculated that as a result of methane being a powerful greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide, the amount of methane emissions saved from this rule would be  equivalent to taking up to 950,000 vehicles off the road.    

The resolution vote to kill this Obama-era Interior regulation is just “the tip of the iceberg” for Republican legislators seeking to dilute even further the federal government’s regulation of energy development on public lands. A group of GOP lawmakers representing Western states has proposed to repeal at least eight rules that address to oil and gas extraction activities on federally controlled lands and waters.

However, there is hope. As we have already seen with the short-lived Disposal of Excess Federal Lands Act, lawmakers are sometimes forced to change course when they hear from enough angry constituents. Lawmakers need to hear loud and clear that we are watching and know the true intent of these CRA bills: to provide handouts to fossil fuel companies at the expense of our public lands, our waterways, our climate, and our health. The more often they hear from constituents demanding they put the health of our environment and public lands above the interest of the fossil fuel industry, the more likely we are to stop this onslaught. Please contact your Senators today and tell them to vote “No” on the repeal of the Methane Rule.

Image by Tim Evanson

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