House Republicans ready bill to overturn methane rule

(AP Photo/Matt Houston)

Congressional Republicans are not wasting any time going after former president Barack Obama’s climate change legacy.

House Republicans are putting the final touches on legislation to overturn an Obama executive order limiting the amount of methane that can be vented and flared from oil and gas drilling sites on federal lands. The bill, along with another piece of legislation overturning an order protecting streams and wildlife around coal mines, is set to be introduced Monday,

“These are abusive, last minute regulations that are grossly inconsistent with congressional intent,” Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a conference call Friday. “They will impose a real an unnecessary cost on American people and communities.”

A day after a Republican retreat in Philadelphia headlined by President Donald Trump, party leaders are gearing up to roll back federal regulation at-large. At a meeting in the White House earlier this week, Trump told business leaders he wants to see federal rules reduced by three quarters.

Most immediately, Republicans plan to revive a little-used law signed by former president Bill Clinton in the 1990s that gave Congress the authority to overturn any regulation within 60 days of publication – a measure designed to keep presidential administration’s from tacking on regulations on their way out of the White House.

Known as the Congressional Review Act, it has only been used once in the past two decades. But now Republicans want to use it to tackle rules on everything from overtime pay to in this case greenhouse gas emissions.

Environmentalists are already stepping up campaigns to try and block the legislation in the Senate, where Republicans maintain a thin 52-48 majority.

“The math is hard, but it’s not settled,” said Chase Huntley, a senior government relations director at The Wilderness Society, a conservation group.

Their argument is limiting the amount of methane that oil and gas companies can flare or vent into the atmosphere is simply putting into code what are already considered standard practices at many companies. At the same time, they say, the rule has helped develop a small but burgeoning industry of methane sensor manufacturers and firms armed with infrared goggles that inspect drilling sites for leaks that stand to be hurt if the rule is rolled back.

But Bishop expressed confidence Friday he had the votes in the Senate to get his legislation passed.

The Bureau of Land Management’s venting and flaring rule is one in a series of methane emissions rules ordered by the Obama administration.

Bishop said he planned to “address” two similar methane rules at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency but had not yet decided on how. A rule relating to emissions from new wells is too old to be addressed by the Congressional Review Act and would likely require an executive order by Trump to be overturned. The other rule, for existing wells, is still in development at the agency and is not expected to be published.

“We’re a little ahead of how many of those I want to do administratively and how many I want to do legislatively,” Bishop said. “The method I’m going to use in the future is not quite clear.”