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Congress sends resolution nixing Trump methane rule rollback to Biden's desk

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Congress sends resolution nixing Trump methane rule rollback to Biden's desk

U.S. Congress passed a measure to repeal a Trump-era rollback of the Obama administration's methane regulations on the oil and natural gas industry, sending the proposal to U.S. President Joe Biden's desk.

With a 229 to 191 vote June 25, the U.S. House of Representatives advanced a resolution invoking the Congressional Review Act to repeal the Trump administration's 2020 rules issued under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and to reinstate the Obama-era regulations. The Congressional Review Act, or CRA, allows lawmakers to rescind a rule within 60 days of an agency transmitting the rule to Congress through a simple majority vote in both chambers.

The Senate passed the resolution in April, and the House Energy and Commerce Committee advanced the proposal June 10.

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J., said Congress was using the CRA to "soundly reject and nullify one of the most egregious environmental rollbacks of the Trump administration."

"Addressing methane is an urgent and essential step to mitigate climate change," Pallone said on the House floor before the vote. "And the greatest and most cost-effective way to curb methane pollution over the next decade is through the fossil fuel sector, which is the largest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States."

Despite support for methane regulations among many oil and gas companies and industry trade groups, the resolution garnered only a dozen Republican votes in the lower chamber. Committee ranking member Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Wash., called it an "attack on American energy security."

"We all know that this resolution is unnecessary," the ranking member said prior to the vote. "President [Joe] Biden has made his intentions very clear. His administration has declared war on affordable fossil energy and energy security."

The 2020 rules removed methane monitoring requirements from the upstream and midstream segments of the oil and gas industry, though the agency did maintain such requirements for volatile organic compounds for production and processing companies. At the time, the EPA noted that volatile organic compounds are often co-emitted with methane, making such requirements sufficient to reduce emissions of the greenhouse gas.

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The Trump-era rollback affected new and modified oil and gas sources, but it also restricted efforts to impose regulations on existing operations, which contribute the bulk of methane emissions. The Obama administration set methane performance standards on new and modified facilities in 2016 under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act. This provision of the statute also requires the EPA to regulate existing sources under Section 111(d) when new sources in the same source category come under regulation.

The House vote marked an "important first step in controlling methane pollution," said Sarah Smith, super pollutants program director for the Clean Air Task Force.

"Next, we look forward to action from EPA to strengthen rules for new and modified sources of methane emissions and extend those rules to existing sources," Smith said. "By instituting the best practices of methane emissions control across the country, the EPA could relatively easily cut methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 65% by 2025, a level deemed essential to attaining President Biden's overall target of [greenhouse gas] reduction across all sectors by 50% by 2030."

Biden will likely sign the resolution into law, given his pledge to tackle methane emissions. The EPA is also working on drafting new regulations.