WASHINGTON — Republicans suffered a surprise defeat today in their quest to repeal Obama-era methane rules thank to votes from three members of their caucus in favor of keeping the restrictions on oil and gas drilling emissions on federal land.
Two months before leaving office, President Obama finalized a rule compelling energy companies to capture the methane they would otherwise burn off through on-site flaring. In addition to environmental concerns, proponents said the practice wasted energy resources that belonged to taxpayers.
The vote to repeal that rule was 49-51, with Susan Collins (R-Maine), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) voting to keep the rule. McCain reportedly was siding with GOP leaders Tuesday. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) had also reportedly planned to vote in favor of repeal before changing her vote.
Vice President Mike Pence was reportedly on standby at the Capitol to cast a tie-breaking vote, but he wasn’t needed.
“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,” McCain said in a statement. “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.”
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told MSNBC at the end of March that “it is better to produce energy here under reasonable regulations,” and the methane rule “an example.”
“Everyone should realize that my position on methane is this is a waste to vent methane, but we also have to have the collection systems in place to make sure we can either inject it or use that methane,” Zinke said. “But when you can’t build a pipeline, you can’t build collection systems, then what you do is end up isolating assets. So we as a country — all the above energy policy is prudent. We can do it right. We need to hold industry accountable but also jobs matter and there’s a social cost of not having jobs in this country.”
Republican leaders indicated they’d now ask Zinke to unilaterally repeal the rule.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told Fox News last month that “CO2 contributes to greenhouse gas, it has a greenhouse gas effect and global warming, as methane does and other types of gases.”
“The issue is, how much we contribute to it from the human activity perspective and what can be done about it from a process perspective,” Pruitt added.