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Senate falls short in effort to repeal environmental regulation

Joe Mont | May 10, 2017

Republican defections in the Senate have squashed an attempt to repeal an environmental regulation from the final days of the Obama Administration

A motion to proceed to a resolution to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s methane recapture rule, using the Congressional Review Act, failed on a vote of 51-to-49. Naysaying Republicans included Maine’s Susan Collins, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and John McCain of Arizona.

The regulations in question dates back to November 2016. As part of the Interior Department’s reform agenda and in furtherance of the Obama Administration’s Climate Action Plan, the a final rule was intended to reduce the release of natural gas into the atmosphere from oil and gas operations on public and Indian lands. It updated 30-year old regulations governing venting, flaring, and leaks of natural gas.

Enough natural gas was lost between 2009 and 2015 to serve more than 6 million households for a year, the Obama Administration claimed.

The rule, phased in over time, requires oil and gas producers to use currently available technologies and processes to cut flaring in half at oil wells on public and tribal lands.

Operators must also periodically inspect their operations for leaks, and replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air. Other parts of the rule require operators to limit venting from storage tanks and to use best practices to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.

About 40 percent of natural gas now vented or flared from onshore Federal leases could be economically captured with currently available technologies, according to a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office report.

McCain issued a statement to explain why he voted against a procedural motion that would have brought a resolution to the Senate floor to overturn the BLM methane recapture rule.

“Improving the control of methane emissions is an important public health and air quality issue, which is why some states are moving forward with their own regulations requiring greater investment in recapture technology,” he said in a statement. “I join the call for strong action to reduce pollution from venting, flaring and leaks associated with oil and gas production operations on public and Indian land.”

While he is “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.

McCain urged the Interior Department to issue a new rule to revise and improve the BLM methane rule.