Clock is ticking on Senate disapproval resolution on BLM methane rule

Happy Friday. You made it. What now?

If you’re a member of the House of Representatives, you still have a vote on the repeal of Obama’s signature health care law to look forward to later today. While the whip count in the House continues, one thing that is clear is that next week’s Senate calendar will look a whole lot different if the House does not vote on repeal-and-replace legislation today.

The Senate has been holding the floor calendar open in anticipation of health care legislation coming over from the House, and at this moment it’s unclear what could take its place. One piece of unfinished business is the disapproval resolution on the Bureau of Land Management’s methane venting and flaring rule.

Sen. John Barrasso’s (R-Wyo.) Senate Joint Resolution 11 under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) would nullify the methane final rule, while keeping in place existing federal air quality and state laws regulating methane emissions. Republican leaders need to secure a simple majority of 51 votes for passage. A number of members, though, have said they remain undecided, despite growing home-state pressure to support repeal. Supporters of repeal have focused primarily on Ohio, where Republican Sen. Rob Portman has not declared how he will vote. Other potential key states include Colorado and Indiana for Republican lawmakers. And North Dakota and West Virginia for potential votes from Democrats.

The Congressional Review Act offers a unique opportunity to undo costly and redundant regulations like the BLM methane rule, but it is not open-ended. Now CRA math is complicated – and anyone can tell you that math is not my strong suit – but the special provisions under the CRA that allow for the Senate to fast-track a disapproval resolution – avoiding, for example, a filibuster – expire on or around May 9th. So time is of the essence.

May 9th might sound like plenty of time to get this done, but anyone familiar with the time scale of legislative work periods knows there are only so many days available on the Senate calendar. The Senate currently has one week left before it’s scheduled to begin a two-week recess for the Easter holidays. The sooner the Senate votes to nullify the methane rule, the sooner it moves on to other priorities.

The CRA process has earned bipartisan praise for its efficiency in the past. Then-Sen. Carl Levin (D–Mich.) said the CRA puts Congress “in a position to do something ourselves,” about agency rules that go too far afield from the intent of Congress. A disapproval resolution isn’t absolutely necessary, of course. The Trump administration could act on its own to unravel the methane rule. However, that would require a lengthy notice and comment period and inevitable court challenges that could drag on for two years or more. Senate action is far more efficient.

BLM’s methane rule, which requires producers to reduce gas lost through venting, flaring, or equipment leaks, could affect some 96,000 oil and gas wells on federal and Indian lands, making many uneconomic and forcing them to be shut-in. The loss of that much natural gas production could have a real impact on recent U.S. progress in moving toward cleaner-burning energy. BLM’s onshore oil and gas management program is a major contributor to domestic production, accounting for 11 percent of U.S. gas production.

A recent economic analysis found the BLM rule could result in the loss of thousands of jobs, cost the broader economy nearly $1 billion annually, and eliminate about $114 million a year in federal and state revenues, while doing little to improve environmental conditions.

Read more about the effort to nullify the methane rule in our previous post.

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