Trump Just Suffered a Big Defeat on the Environment

The Senate voted down an effort to repeal a key Obama climate rule.

Olivier Douliery/CNP via ZUMA


Environmentalists got some rare good news Wednesday when the Senate narrowly rejected a GOP effort to repeal an Obama-era regulation limiting methane emissions on public lands.

President Donald Trump faces a May 11 deadline to overturn a number of Obama-era regulations through a simple majority vote in Congress under a law known as the Congressional Review Act. The oil and gas industry lobbied hard for Congress to use the CRA to repeal Department of Interior’s methane rule, which requires energy companies to upgrade equipment and monitoring to prevent venting and leaking of methane—a powerful greenhouse gas—on public lands. The rule also restricts a practice know as “flaring,” which is when oil and gas operators leak and burn off excess gas.

The House passed a resolution to repeal the methane rule in February, but the bill stalled in the Senate as some Republicans expressed concern that such a bill would prevent the government from enacting “substantially similar” regulations in the future. Methane leaks are not just a safety hazard and a driver of climate change, they also waste natural gas that would otherwise be used as fuel. Using the CRA to undo the rule would have permanently handicapped efforts to control methane.

The repeal effort faced its final defeat on Wednesday in a 51-49 vote, with Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Lindsey Graham (S.C.), and John McCain (Ariz.) joining every Democrat in opposing the bill. Graham had previously expressed reservations about using the CRA, calling it “too blunt an instrument in this case,” and Collins has broken with her party on some environmental votes in the past. McCain was more of a surprise, though yesterday he met briefly with Gwen Lachelt, a La Plata County Commissioner in Colorado, who helped develop the rule and flew to DC to make a last-ditch attempt to save it.

McCain appeared to be arguing with his Republican colleagues, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (Texas) and Sen. John Barrasso (Wyo.), just moments before his “no” vote:

The White House wanted Congress to send as many CRA repeal bills as possible to Trump’s desk, and Congress has used the law 13 times to repeal Obama-era regulations, including several rules that were loathed by the oil, gas, and coal industries.

Trump can still weaken or roll back the government’s limits on methane emissions, though that will have to go through the agency’s formal rulemaking process and could take years.

One of the areas most affected by the rule is the San Juan Basin. Lachelt lives in a nearby Colorado county that, she notes, is “under the largest methane cloud in country.”

“If the [methane] rule goes away,” she says, “we have no way to address that pollution.”

More Mother Jones reporting on Climate Desk

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We've never been very good at being conservative.

And usually, that serves us well in doing the ambitious, hard-hitting journalism that you turn to Mother Jones for. But it also means we can't afford to come up short when it comes to scratching together the funds it takes to keep our team firing on all cylinders, and the truth is, we finished our budgeting cycle on June 30 about $100,000 short of our online goal.

This is no time to come up short. It's time to fight like hell, as our namesake would tell us to do, for a democracy where minority rule cannot impose an extreme agenda, where facts matter, and where accountability has a chance at the polls and in the press. If you value our reporting and you can right now, please help us dig out of the $100,000 hole we're starting our new budgeting cycle in with an always-needed and always-appreciated donation today.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate