Congress votes to undo Trump-era rule that loosened methane restrictions

The sun sets behind a pumpjack near Goldsmith, Texas.
The House approved a measure that reverses what Democrats and environmentalists have called one of the Trump administration’s most egregious actions to deregulate U.S. businesses.
(Eli Hartman / Odessa [Texas] American)

Congressional Democrats have approved a measure reinstating rules aimed at limiting climate-warming methane gas emissions from oil and gas drilling, a rare effort by Democrats to use the legislative branch to overturn a regulatory rollback under President Trump.

The resolution was approved Friday by a 229-191 vote and now goes to President Biden, who is expected to sign it. Twelve Republicans joined 217 Democrats to support the measure.

Democrats and environmentalists called the methane rule, which rolled back an Obama-era requirement, one of the Trump administration’s most egregious actions to deregulate U.S. businesses and said its removal would assist a broader effort by the Biden administration to tackle climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, packing a stronger punch in the short term than carbon dioxide.

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The resolution was approved under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn certain regulations that have been in place for a short time. The Trump methane rule was finalized last September.

Action on methane was one of just three Trump-era rules targeted by the Democratic-controlled Congress under the review law, a sharp contrast to 14 Obama-era rules repealed by congressional Republicans in the first year of the Trump administration.

Democrats also targeted the loosening of regulations for payday lenders ordered by Trump and a rule that they said gave employers an unfair advantage over workers in settling discrimination claims.

Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), who sponsored the methane measure, called its approval “a big win in our overall effort to combat the climate crisis, and a critical first step toward sufficiently reducing our nation’s overall methane emissions.”

If Biden and Congress are “going to be serious about combating this climate crisis, we have to take steps now to cut the amount of methane in our atmosphere,” DeGette said. The legislation will reduce methane emissions by 1.6 million tons by reinstating standards put in place in 2016, she said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) said the action was part of an effort by Congress to reassert its own power. She called the Congressional Review Act “one of the Congress’ most important tools ... to deliver for the people and to reclaim our authority under the Constitution, upholding the balance of powers that is the foundation of our American democracy.”

Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, said the measure approved Friday “will restore common-sense safeguards to limit methane pollution from oil and gas production. It’s a modest and straightforward step in the right direction, but it’s a very important one.’’


Republicans disagreed, saying the measure took unfair aim at oil and gas companies that are already working to reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases.

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Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) said the repeal measure advanced “radical activist priorities” while empowering foreign oil producers in the Middle East and Russia.

Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M,) said the measure would “nickel and dime the most essential business in my district” — oil and gas producers who she said could be forced out of business by excessive government regulations.

Those statements were at odds with the oil industry, which generally supported the Obama-era rule.

Oil giant BP said it supports direct federal regulation of methane emissions.

“Keeping methane in the pipes is good for the planet and for business. It means that we can sell it as a cleaner fuel source rather than losing it,” said Mary Streett, a senior vice president at BP. “We’re pleased that Congress recognizes the importance of this objective and we encourage the president to sign the resolution,″ she said.

The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top lobbying group, said it is focused on working with the Biden administration in support of direct regulation of methane for new and existing sources.

“We have an opportunity to build on the progress the industry has made in driving down methane emissions through technological advancement, and we are committed to finding common ground on cost-effective government policies,” said API spokeswoman Jessica Szymanski.