Efforts To Repeal Methane Emissions Rule Hits Snag

Mar 24, 2017

Credit Willow Belden

Wyoming lawmakers are pushing to repeal an Obama-era rule that would limit methane emissions on federal lands, but they're hitting a snag and this time it's coming from their fellow Republicans.

The Trump administration may have gotten off to a rocky start on everything from lying about the size of his Inauguration to its stalled immigration ban, but when it comes to repealing regulations it's been relatively smooth sailing. Working with Congress the president has loosened a restriction on gun owners, ended a reporting requirement for energy companies and killed a rule intended to protect waterways from coal runoff. Earlier this week Wyoming Senator John Barrasso told us numerous industries are feeling the impact already. 

“Yesterday at the Loaf and Jug in Casper before getting on the plane, one guy comes in and sees one of his buddies and he said ‘how are things?’ he said ‘good, we’re hiring again.’ To me, that’s a big sign of Wyoming and the optimism for the state. “

Congress and the White House have been able to kill the Obama-era rules by using a tool called the Congressional Review Act. It allows Congress and a new president to act swiftly to end regulations from the end of the last president's term. Wyoming lawmakers want to use that tool to end a rule limiting the release of methane, a greenhouse gas, on federal lands. Barrasso is pushing his party to quickly kill the rule. 

“I think the Congressional Review Act is the way to go, it’s our opportunity right now to peel back some of the last administration’s regulations that came out, they’re calling “midnight regulations” because they did them way into the term.”

But there’s resistance from within the GOP on the methane rule. Colorado Republican Senator Cory Gardner is still on the fence because he fears repealing it may impede with his state's law. 

“I’m continuing to hear from people back in Colorado about the regulation. Colorado came up with the unique Colorado solution for this very question and I want to make sure that Colorado rights are accounted for in any regulation whether it’s a regulation on venting/flaring, as proposed or whether it’s a repeal of such regulation, I want to make sure that Colorado solution is maintained.”

The methane bill squeaked out of the House, passing by just five votes. It now seems stuck in the Senate in part because of people like Maine Republican Senator Susan Collins who opposes repealing it. 

“I feel that the environmental consequences are significant and there are other ways to solve the methane problem other than flaring and venting it into the atmosphere.”

Collins and other Republicans would rather see Congress write a new rule, rather than scrapping it altogether, because the Review Act prohibits a similar rule from being written after Congress rescinds it. But Wyoming Congresswoman Liz Cheney disagrees. 

Yes, if you repeal it through the Congressional Review Act then it puts restrictions in place in terms of putting the exact same rule back again but the point of this is to say ‘this rule is damaging, this rule doesn’t accomplish what folks need it to accomplish. It’s unnecessary.’ And this gives us the ability to say ‘repeal that and we can put in place the regulation we ought to have.’ My view frankly though is that ought to be happening at the state level and it is.”

Wyoming sued the federal government over the methane rule, arguing the state already has strong enough methane restrictions in place. Cheney says that's why she doesn't want the Environmental Protection Agency involved. 

“In my view, it’s a good thing if the EPA can’t put these rules back in place cause the Department of Environmental Qualities ought to be regulating this stuff, not the EPA. We have DEQ’s in every state now, they’re the ones that are closest to these issues, and that’s where this regulation and policy directive ought to be coming from.”   

Cheney says the methane rule is just one example of federal regulations that have become so layered on top of each other that they're impeding the state's energy industry.  

“It is not just methane rule but you’ve seen it across the board, this duplication, which is what leads to 9 years of in terms of being able to get permits for new projects, and the oil and gas industry, it can take up to 9 years when you talk about trying to work on federal land so these are rules that have got to go, they’re rules that have really hurt the industry. And I hope the Senate will see the light on this and move quickly.”

While Wyoming Republicans have been successful in scrapping regulations up until now, they don't seem to have the votes in their own party to repeal the methane rule. At least for now.