Week Ahead: Methane Rule Repeal Expected to Surface in Senate

Energy Efficiency Bill Gaining Momentum in SenateThe Senate will try to beat the clock during the week of May 8 in a potential Congressional Review Act vote to repeal an Obama-era rule regulating methane emissions on public lands.

Lawmakers are under pressure to hold a vote on methane ahead of a looming deadline for rolling back so-called “midnight regulations” issued in the waning months of President Barack Obama’s term. The CRA resolution of disapproval cannot be subject to a filibuster and requires only a simple majority.

The Senate can only use the CRA to disapprove of Obama-era rules during the first 60 legislative days of this session, a deadline the Senate is scheduled to hit later in the week. Congress has already used the CRA to nullify a number of Obama-era regulations, including a stream buffer zone regulation that limited the placement of mining waste in streams.

The Interior Department rule forces energy companies to curb emissions of methane escaping from wells and pipelines on public land. Most Republicans, joined by the Competitive Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform and other opponents, argue it will decrease energy production on federal lands and lead to fewer revenues from royalties and higher energy costs, as well as lost jobs.

Environmental groups and other supporters of the rule contend the CRA resolution would impair—if not eliminate—the Bureau of Land Management’s ability to promote the recapture of wasted gas.

The House easily passed the repeal in February. But the Senate vote is close because Republicans only control the Senate 52-48 and at least two GOP lawmakers—Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine)—are opposed to the measure.

The vote has been delayed by unrelated objections from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and other senators seeking to trade a vote on a bill to eliminate a restriction on selling higher blends of gasoline and ethanol in the summer in exchange for a vote on the methane resolution. But Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) said the Environment and Public Works Committee is considering a hearing and markup on the ethanol issue, a move Cornyn predicted would let the CRA vote proceed.

Senate panels also will hold hearings on several energy and environment matters.

Endangered Species: The Environment and Public Works Committee will hold a May 10 hearing to examine states’ views on modernizing the Endangered Species Act.

Water Resources: EPW’s Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee will hold a May 9 hearing on water resources, focusing on the role of the public and private sectors.

Pesticides: The Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee will hold a May 11 hearing on the reauthorization of the Pesticide Registration Improvement Act. The law allows the EPA to levy fees from industry to review and register pesticides’ safety and environmental impact.

Also coming up this week:

Climate: Trump administration officials are expected to hold another high-level meeting on May 9 to discuss whether the U.S. should exit the Paris Agreement. Meanwhile, international climate negotiators will be gathering in Bonn, Germany, starting May 8 to address how the Paris Agreement can be translated into action. Dean Scott and other Bloomberg BNA staff will assess the implications.

Jobs Analysis: The Environmental Protection Agency will be facing off May 9 against a coal company in oral arguments at a federal appeals court in Richmond, Va. The company, Murray Energy, believes the agency is required to do an analysis of how its air regulations affect jobs, but the EPA disagrees. David Schultz will monitor.

Water Rule: Panelists at the D.C. Bar Conference Center on May 11 will discuss potential approaches to revising the “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) rule. Amena H. Saiyid will be there.

And Bloomberg BNA’s energy and environment staff will have in-depth articles on several issues, including Rachel Leven on whether the handful of scientists serving in Congress need more company and Rebecca Kern on how the wind and solar industries are changing their messaging under the new administration.