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Senate advances a return to Obama-era methane rules



By Coral Davenport

© The New York Times Co.

WASHINGTON » The Senate voted Wednesday to effectively reinstate an Obama-era regulation designed to clamp down on emissions of methane — a powerful, climate- warming pollutant that will have to be controlled to meet President Joe Biden’s ambitious climate change promises.

Taking a page from congressional Republicans who in 2017 made liberal use of a once-obscure law to roll back Obama-era regulations, Democrats invoked the law to turn back a Trump methane rule enacted late last summer. That rule had eliminated Obama-era controls on leaks of methane, which seeps from oil and gas wells.

The bipartisan vote marked the first time congressional Democrats have used the law, called the Congressional Review Act, which prohibits Senate filibusters and ensures one administration’s last-minute regulations can be overturned swiftly with a simple majority vote in both chambers of Congress.

Passage of the measure in the House next month is considered pro forma, as is Biden’s signature. And with Donald Trump’s regulation out of the way, the Obama methane rule would go back into force.

That rule, released in 2016, had imposed the first federal limits on methane leaks from oil and gas wells, requiring companies to monitor, plug and capture leaks of methane from new drilling sites.

Biden has vowed to place climate change at the top of his agenda.

He rejoined the Paris climate change agreement, assigned his Cabinet leaders to enact climate-friendly policies across the government, and included hundreds of billions of dollars in spending on renewable energy projects in an infrastructure package pending before Congress. Last week, Biden announced at a global climate summit that the United States would cut its greenhouse emissions by 50% from 2005 levels by 2030.

With the striking of the Trump methane rule, Democrats will have enacted the first legislative step toward that goal.

“Once the president signs it, this will be the first move by Congress and this administration to actually put climate policy back on the books,” said Dan Grossman, director of legislative and regulatory affairs at the Environmental Defense Fund, an advocacy group.

In a statement of support for the vote, the White House called methane “a potent climate- disrupting greenhouse gas that is responsible for approximately one-third of the global warming.”

The statement added that “addressing methane pollution” is “an urgent and essential step.”

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to reverse any executive-branch rule within 60 legislative days of its enactment, but because the president can veto review act measures, the law can be effectively deployed only after a new administration takes control.



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