Three Senate Republicans joined ranks with Democrats on Wednesday to reject overturning an Obama-era regulation limiting methane emission from oil and gas drilling.
Sens. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., John McCain, R-Ariz., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, joined ranks with Senate Democrats, leaving only 49 votes in support of revoking the Bureau of Land Management rule, two votes shy of the 51 votes needed.
While Graham and Collins had previously made open their intention to vote against the measure, McCain’s came as a surprise.
Vice President Mike Pence had traveled to the Capitol in the event his vote was needed to break a tie vote in the Senate.
The Obama administration’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule is primarily intended to reduce the waste of methane gasses released during oil and gas production.
“Between 2009 and 2015, oil and gas producers on public and Indian lands vented, flared and leaked about 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas. That’s enough gas to supply about 6.2 million households for a year,” states a fact sheet on the regulation.
Wasted natural gas amounts to $23 million annually in royalty revenue for the Federal government and States that share it, as indicated by a 2010 Government Accountability Office report.
In addition to cost saving, the regulation was likewise intended to help the environment. Methane, the primary component in natural gas, is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide and accounts for nine percent of US gas emissions.
Supporters of the regulation say the benefits of lowering waste during the natural gas production process is a win-win for both sides of the political aisle.
“This rule unites people who care about a traditional set of issues related to air quality, but also people who don’t want to see the American government waste resources and tax dollars,” said Chris Saeger of the Western Values Project.
However, opponents of the rule, such as the Independent Petroleum Association of America, say the regulation is outside the authority of the Bureau of Land Management and imposes “costly and duplicative” regulations on the producers of natural gas.
The IPAA says the best way to reduce waste during natural gas production is to increase pipeline capacities, not more government mandates.
“IPAA continues to educate Senate offices on the costly and duplicative burden that the [Bureau of Land Management] rule, which is essentially an air quality rule and is outside the congressionally given authority of the BLM, places on US independent producers’ businesses,” said Neal Kirby, the spokesperson for IPAA.
Senate Republicans had hoped to revoke the methane rule under the Congressional Review Act, which prevents the government from making a similar rule in the future that is “substantially the same” as the one it overturned.
“I think we can replace it with a better reg, rather than a CRA,” Graham said in March of the resolution.
Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Uta, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said Graham’s reasoning for voting against the methane rule change was ignorant.
“Sen. Graham doesn’t live in the West, and doesn’t understand these issues, clearly,” Bishop said.
Following the failure of the legislative branch to repeal the Obama regulation, President Trump’s Interior Department still has the choice to repeal the methane rule through an exhaustive rulemaking process.