HomeWashington Letter2017 ▶ Senate Rejects Effort to Roll Back Methane Rule
Senate Rejects Effort to Roll Back Methane Rule

May 2017

This week, by a vote of 49-51, the Senate rejected legislation to repeal an Obama Administration rule to limit fugitive emissions and flaring of methane gas from oil and natural gas extraction on federal lands.  Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and John McCain (R-AZ) joined all 48 Democratic senators in opposing the repeal measure.  The senate vote was on a Congressional Review Act measure that allows Congress within "60 legislative days" – a legislative day is a day when Congress is in session – to repeal a major federal regulation by a simple majority vote and signature of the president.  The House of Representatives had earlier passed the methane rule repeal along largely partisan lines.

Under the Congressional Review Act action, not only is the federal rule struck down by a majority vote, but the administration is also barred from issuing any future regulation that is "substantially similar" to the repealed regulation.  What constitutes "substantially similar" is not clearly defined nor has it been tested in court.

The vote tally was an unexpected result – and a pleasant surprise – for the public health and environmental community.  While both Sens. Collins and Graham were expected to vote against the repeal effort, supporters of the rule focused on Sens. Portman (R-OH), Gardener (R-CO), Heller (R-NV) as potential swing votes to preserve the methane rule.  All three voted to repeal the rule.  Sen. McCain's support was a pleasant surprise.

The ATS joined its colleagues in the public health community in sign-on letters opposing repeal of the methane rule and reached out to key swing Senate offices, urging them to oppose the repeal effort.

While the ATS is pleased with this legislative victory, the victory may be short-lived.  The Trump Administration has signaled that it will take administrative action to rescind the final rule.  While action from the Trump Administration to rescind the rule is highly likely, it will take much longer to rescind the rule administratively and defeating the Congressional Review Act preserves the ability for a different administration to re-issue a similar rule in the future.

Last Reviewed: October 2017