Senate keeps rule on methane

Vote turns back effort to repeal

The U.S. Senate Wednesday rejected an effort to repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s new rule controlling methane emissions from oil and gas development, with Sen. Michael Bennet tweaking the vice president in a tweet about the vote afterward and fellow Coloradan Cory Gardner voting in the minority.

The Senate voted 51-49 to defeat a measure to move forward with debate on a repeal resolution.

Republicans John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Susan Collins of Maine joined Democrats including Bennet in defeating the measure.

Gardner long had been publicly noncommittal on the issue, and even Wednesday his spokesman indicated that the procedural vote wasn’t necessarily a reflection of how Gardner might have voted on repealing the rule itself had debate gone forward.

Bennet cast the 51st vote stopping the repeal effort, with Vice President Mike Pence on hand at the Capitol and in a position to cast the tie-breaking vote had senators split 50-50 on the matter.

Bennet chided Pence on Twitter, saying, “Honored that I could cast the 51st vote instead of the @VP. Next time call ahead ... could have saved you the trip. #winning.”

The methane rule was approved during the Obama administration and the resolution would have rescinded it through use of the Congressional Review Act. The House already had voted in favor of rescinding the rule.

Gardner had come under intense lobbying from both supporters and opponents of the rule. Supporters say it will reduce waste and pollution and boost federal royalties, while the industry says it is costly, unnecessary and would discourage production, and thus reduce royalties.

“This rule has widespread support from people across the West and across the political spectrum,” Rodger Steen of the Western Colorado Congress citizens group said in a news release. “It saves taxpayers money on lost royalties that are literally being flared, leaked, and vented into the air from public oil and gas leases on public lands. The only real entity opposing the rule was the industry, which spent millions of dollars trying to kill it. It is good to see that common sense protections supported by a majority of people across the country can still win the day in Congress.”

The American Petroleum Institute said that while it is disappointed with the vote, it is encouraged that the Interior Department has undertaken its own review of the rule.

“America’s natural gas and oil industry supports commonsense regulation, but the BLM’s technically flawed rule on methane emissions is an unnecessary and costly misstep,” said Erik Milito of API. “The rule could impede U.S. energy production while reducing local and federal government revenues.”

The national rule follows on the heels of the first-in-the-nation rules limiting methane emissions from oil and gas development, adopted by Colorado in 2014. Some other states have followed suit with similar limits.

Methane is the prime component in natural gas targeted by energy companies for production. It also is a potent greenhouse gas, and efforts to control methane emissions also effectively reduce emissions of harmful substances such as benzene. The rule requires measures including reductions in flaring, periodical inspections for leaks, and replacement of equipment that vents large quantities of gas.

Gardner said in a statement Wednesday, “The Senate rejected a procedural measure today to advance debate of the (Congressional Review Act) involving the methane rule, and the Senate will not consider repealing the rule implemented by the Obama Administration. Colorado has one of the strictest regulations on methane emissions in the country. Our state is an example of what can be achieved when states work to find answers that best fit the needs of local interests, and the Colorado way will continue to be the standard.”

Gardner’s spokesman, Casey Contres, said it would be incorrect to say the senator’s procedural vote indicated that he would have voted for repeal of the rule itself if it had gone to a floor debate.

“As he does with every vote he was going to continue to listen to his constituents up until the Senate was prepared to vote (on) the measure, and was prepared for a robust dialogue among Senators on the Senate floor during consideration of the measure,” Contres said in an email.

Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, said her group and other plaintiffs will continue to pursue their lawsuit arguing that the rule is a vast overreach of BLM authority. Sgamma’s group also is counting on the Interior Department to rescind the rule, although that would require a much more drawn-out process than congressional action would have.

Said Sgamma, “BLM has neither the authority nor expertise to regulate air quality, and we know that (Interior) Secretary Zinke understands that fact. While we were hoping for a clean break through the (Congressional Review Act) process, we will just roll up our sleeves and continue to work to overturn this rule.”

In a news release, Pete Maysmith, executive director of Conservation Colorado, celebrated the vote as a victory for the environment and residents “who have been telling their members of Congress to vote for clean air.”

He added, “Despite more than 10,000 emails and calls from Coloradans and multiple protests at his offices on this issue, Senator Gardner managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory by voting against Colorado’s clean air in what amounted to a futile vote for him.”


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