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US Senate votes to roll back Trump-era EPA methane rule for oil, gas industry

The U.S. Senate voted to repeal a methane rule rollback instated by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency during the Trump administration's final months in office.

With a 52-42 vote on April 28, the upper chamber agreed to roll back the previous administration's repeal of an Obama-era methane regulation on the oil and gas industry, a move to effectively put the Obama administration's rule back in place. The lawmakers invoked the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to scrap a rule within 60 days of an agency transmitting the rule to Congress through a simple majority vote in both chambers.

Members of the Democratic caucus touted the vote on the joint resolution as one of the most important climate decisions in the last decade, noting the significance of their party invoking the Congressional Review Act for the first time to overturn a methane rule rollback. They also noted the important role methane reduction can play in meeting near-term climate targets since methane packs a greater punch but does not remain in the atmosphere for as long as carbon dioxide.

Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, said the vote will have "ripples and repercussions around the world."

"This is the repeal of a repeal," King said. "It leaves the original rule in place that regulated methane that was in place until ... it was repealed by the Trump administration."

On Aug. 13, 2020, the EPA finalized two rules easing methane emission regulations on the oil and gas sector that the Obama administration had put in place in 2016. The rules no longer required the industry to monitor for methane leaks, but did require the upstream segment to track volatile organic compound emissions. The EPA said at the time that, since methane and volatile organic compounds are often co-emitted, regulating the latter would affect methane emissions as well.

The Trump-era rules targeted new and modified oil and gas facilities, but the rollback also hindered future administrations' ability to regulate methane emissions from existing sources, which contribute the bulk of such emissions from the industry.

Senate Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said the resolution was part of a plan to "double-down on an industry that the Biden administration obviously" does not support.

"Passage of this resolution would lay the groundwork for a planned regulatory war on oil and gas," Capito said. "Let's focus on solutions that address our climate challenges without destroying the economic engines of growth."

A spokesperson for the American Petroleum Institute said the trade group is "focused on working with the administration in support of the direct regulation of methane for new and existing sources through a new rulemaking process" while building on the sector's progress in driving down emissions.

Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, noted the "importance of environmentally sound regulations."

"As this process goes forward, our objective will be to collaborate with the Biden administration to make sure the regulatory process distinguishes between large and small wells with appropriate regulations for each," Fuller said. "The Department of Energy is finalizing a study on low production wells emissions this year that will provide that data for use in regulations."

If the resolution passes the U.S. House of Representatives and is signed into law, the EPA could reduce methane emissions from the sector by 65% by 2025, helping hit President Joe Biden's 2030 greenhouse gas reduction targets, according to Sarah Smith, head of the super pollutants program at the Clean Air Task Force.

"Today's vote will be an important first step in controlling methane pollution," Smith said. "Next, we look forward to further action by the House and then action by EPA to strengthen rules for new and modified sources of methane emissions and extend those rules to existing sources."