Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Senate Vote to Preserve Methane Rule May Signal Change

The Senate has voted down a resolution designed to roll back climate pollution standards emitted by the oil & gas industry on public and tribal lands. The rules prevent 180,000 tons of methane associated with drilling from escaping into the atmosphere each year. This preserves both clean air and climate protections. A critical mass of Republicans joined Senate Democrats to keep the standards in place. This includes Senators John McCain, Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham.

The resolution was fully expected to pass. According to the Washington Post, this is the "first time since Trump’s election that Republicans have failed in their attempt to use the Congressional Review Act to overturn Obama-era rules."

Although the vote was close (51 to 49) this may signal the beginning of a change in Washington. In the wake of the political firestorm caused by Trump's firing of Comey a day earlier, legislators may start increasingly prioritizing their own political futures ahead of the agenda of a failing presidency.

We have seen Republicans and the Trump administration unleash a barrage of environmental protections and climate action. The most recent Senate vote brings an end to the uninterrupted succession of anti-environment and anti-climate actions.

As reported by the Post, 13 earlier resolutions were passed, based on the 1996 law that allows Congress to overturn rules within 60 days of their adoption. The deadline for repeal of legislation using the Congressional Review Act expires on Thursday. The window for overturning Obama-era legislation is almost closed. The fact that the review period ended with a loss is noteworthy. We may see more Republicans break ranks.

The shift in political tides may also have an impact on the fight to protect EPA from Trump's proposed budget cuts in 2018.

In a floor speech after the vote, Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), said "the very first victory" lawmakers have had in beating back a Congressional Review Act bill this year came from a combination of Democratic unity and a few Republicans’ willingness to buck their leadership. "Thank you so much for coming forward and seeing the common sense nature of this issue," Udall said.

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