Senate attempt to repeal Obama-era methane regulation was just dealt a surprising blow

Senate Republicans were dealt an unexpected loss April 10 in their attempt to repeal Obama-era regulations on methane emissions.

The Senate tried to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to overturn recent executive orders, to strike down a regulation that places limits on the amount of methane that can be released from oil and gas drilling on federal lands.

But three Republican senators broke ranks and voted against a motion to proceed: John McCain, Lindsay Graham, and Susan Collins. Those defections tipped the scales to 51 votes in favour of keeping Obama’s methane limit.

According to The Hill’s Devin Henry, Vice President was on his way to the Capitol to cast a tie-breaking vote on the CRA repeal, but McCain’s surprise no vote tipped the scales in the Democrats’ favour. The regulation will therefore likely stay on the books.

Methane is the primary component of natural gas, a fuel source that has become increasingly popular in the US because it is often cheaper and more environmentally friendly than other fossil fuels. The rise of natural gas, however, has led to a surge in methane emissions — in 2014 and 2015, the concentration of methane in the atmosphere rose by more than 20 parts per billion, according to The Guardian.

Methane is the most significant human-caused greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. While it doesn’t stay in the atmosphere as long as CO2, methane is much more damaging — the Environmental Defence Fund estimates it’s 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide after 20 years.

The EPA estimates that oil and gas companies release approximately 9.8 million metric tons of methane into the air annually. The regulations that the Senate voted to keep, however, only apply to drilling efforts on federal land.

This vote was the first time since Trump was elected that Republicans failed in an attempt to use the CRA to overturn Obama-era rules. The time period in which Congress can use the CRA to roll back regulations is set to end at the end of this week.

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