Senate Will Roll Back Methane Rule Next Week, Chairman Vows

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By Dean Scott

The chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee is confident he has the votes to roll back Interior Department methane limits and will bring the measure to the floor next week.

“It’s duplicative, unnecessary, expensive, and we’ll pass [a Congressional Review Act resolution] next week,” Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) told Bloomberg BNA May 2. But it’s unclear whether he has swayed enough undecided Republicans—including Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), who said later in the day his vote is still in play.

And there could be another hitch: Bloomberg News separately reported May 2, based on sources familiar with the negotiations, that a pair of Republican senators—Sens. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and John Thune (R-S.D.)—have linked their support for the methane resolution with their demand for a change in federal ethanol policy. Thune and Grassley are reportedly pressing for a policy change to allow the sale of gasoline blends containing more than 10 percent ethanol in summer months, according to Bloomberg News.

Barrasso is leading the Senate effort to repeal the regulations covering methane venting and flaring from oil and gas development on federal lands. The Senate is using expedited procedures under the Congressional Review Act, which allows for a simple up-or-down vote on resolutions to nullify regulations with no option for a filibuster.

If Barrasso’s measure ( S.J. Res. 11) passes, it would go to President Donald Trump for his signature because the House already passed a similar resolution in February.

Window of Opportunity Closing

Supporters of the rollback are racing against the clock to nullify the methane rule within the 60-day window period under the CRA for fast-tracking a Senate floor vote. Opinions differ on the precise deadline for a vote; several senators are eyeing the week of May 8 as the last chance to use the CRA on Obama-era regulations.

One member of Senate Democratic leadership, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), told Bloomberg BNA that, as of Monday, the Senate had 11 more days in session before the clock for expedited consideration expires. Under the CRA, the Senate can only use expedited procedures, including needing only a simple majority of senators to approve resolutions, within the first 60 session days.That raises the possibility that the Senate may have a little more time, through the week of May 15, to consider CRA resolutions. However, several Senate aides said by their count, the door would likely close on May 9 or May 10.

Republican No Votes Make For Close Call

The Senate vote is close because Republicans only control the Senate 52-48 and at least two of them—Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine)—are opposed to the measure. Both Collins and Graham told Bloomberg BNA May 2 that they remain opposed to the resolution.

Several other members, including Gardner and Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio), are still undecided, as is one Democrat: Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.). She told reporters May 2 that she remains so.

Gardner said his vote remains in play as he hears from environmental supporters of the methane limits and industry supporters of rolling back the regulations. But he’s reluctant to do anything that might jeopardize Colorado’s own methane limits.

“I want to make sure I’m taking into account opinions on both sides both the support, the pro, and the cons of this so I’ll continue to hear those conversations,” he told Bloomberg BNA May 2. “You know, Colorado has a really strong rule in place and I think that’s an important factor in this discussion as well.”

To get the resolution passed, Barrasso and other Republicans have one option in the event of a tie: they could rely on Vice President Mike Pence to cast the deciding vote.

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told Bloomberg BNA that Democrats aren’t ready to concede the battle yet.

“This is the next big environmental fight, and it’s not at all clear to me that they have the votes” to roll back the methane rule, Schatz said. “If they had the votes, they would schedule the vote,” he said.

--With assistance from Rachel Leven

To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at DScott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Connolly at PConnolly@bna.com

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