Thursday is the final day for the Senate to make use of the Congressional Review Act’s expedited procedures to repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s venting and flaring rule.
Members of the Senate are expected to vote Wednesday on a disapproval resolution to nullify the rule. That’s cutting it close for a resolution requiring only a simple majority of those present to pass.
Republican leaders have been working for weeks to round up the necessary 51 votes (less if not all Democrats happen to be in town for the vote). The effort has been made more challenging by the early defections of Republican Sens. Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. The absence from Washington of Republican Sen. Johnny Isakson of Georgia, who has been recovering from back surgery, has also complicated the logistics of holding a vote.
A handful of GOP senators has also kept a close hold on how they would vote on a disapproval resolution. Whether to avoid outside pressures or as leverage in negotiations on other legislative priorities, nearly all Republicans are now expected to support repeal of the methane rule.
And then there’s ethanol.
Bloomberg reported last week that four Midwest Republicans, led by Sens. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and John Thune of South Dakota, were demanding a change in ethanol policy as the price for their votes for repeal of the methane rule.
The change, which is being advocated for by the Renewable Fuels Association, would lift seasonal restrictions on the amount of corn-based ethanol that can be blended with gasoline during the summer driving season.
In a nod to Sens. Grassley and Thune, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt has signaled a willingness to have the agency consider a waiver of Clean Air Act restrictions against selling gasoline with a blend of more than 10 percent ethanol.
Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming may also be willing to have the committee look at the ethanol “blend wall” to keep the methane vote on track.
Whether those offers are enough to end the hostage situation over the methane disapproval resolution remains to be seen.
The Senate doesn’t have the luxury of waiting to hold a vote, though. After Thursday the Congressional Review Act will still be available but its “fast track” provisions preventing minority filibusters will not.
Senate failure to repeal the rule using the 1996 Congressional Review Act would have consequences for America’s energy supplies.
The BLM rule, finalized in the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration to minimize venting and flaring of natural gas on public land, is redundant of other federal and state rules and imposes additional expenses on producers that could force the closure of many marginal wells.
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.
Not only is the administrative process slow and inefficient, but it is also fraught with pitfalls for the agency, which would have to build a case for why changes to the rule are justified that could stand up to court challenges. And it would have to do so against the record of public testimony, analysis, and research assembled by the previous administration.
Oil and gas producers will have to decide soon whether to spend the money to comply with the new rules – the most costly provisions of which go into effect in January. Prolonged administrative process and court fight would force many companies to comply with a mandate that will eventually be struck from the books.
Senate action is far more efficient, provides producers with a predictable regulatory system, and allows the agency to focus on other pressing issues.
Recalling the methane rule would be the 14th CRA disapproval resolution signed by President Trump. The House voted to repeal the regulation in February. Now it’s up to the Senate to go on the record in support of ensuring the nation has an affordable and abundant supply energy.