The Methane Rule Canary

A Senate defeat shows the cost of eroding Trump approval.


A natural-gas processing facility near Williston, N.D.

A natural-gas processing facility near Williston, N.D. PHOTO: MATTHEW BROWN/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Republicans in Congress have repealed 13 Obama Administration regulations thanks to a potent tool known as the Congressional Review Act. But last week the Senate failed to kill a costly energy rule, and the defeat is a warning about the Trump Administration’s ebbing political capital.

The Bureau of Land Management’s $1.8 billion rule is ostensibly about reducing methane on federal lands, not that the government needed to intervene: Methane emissions from venting and flaring have dropped 77% since 2011, while oil and gas exploration has boomed. BLM has no legal authority to issue the rule, one reason the rejection passed the House with relative ease.

But a procedural motion on Wednesday failed on the Senate floor, where the bill would have never arrived unless GOP leaders thought they had the votes. Three Republicans voted no: Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and John McCain of Arizona. 

Ms. Collins is a moderate from a swing state, and the climate-change lobby worked on Mr. Graham. Some sources say Mr. McCain was a surprise defector and voted no to register his unhappiness that Senate leaders stuck a waiver for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer into the recent spending bill. The waiver overruled a ban on someone who has represented foreign governments serving as trade rep. Mr. McCain’s office called such allegations “ridiculous” and said he wants BLM to revise the regulation instead. A congressional review action prohibits an agency from issuing “similar” rules.

All 48 Democrats voted no, and apparently maintaining a 100% rating on the Trump Resistance Scorecard is more important than serving your constituents. North Dakota’s Heidi Heitkamp felt liberated to endorse a rule that will substantially raise costs for energy producers in her state. Great fodder for 2018 ads against Ms. Heitkamp and other energy-state Democrats like Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The larger point is that all of these Senators felt they could oppose the measure without paying a political price. This is what happens when a President’s approval rating is close to 40%. Senators look out for themselves and governing becomes much harder.

The Interior Department, which oversees BLM, can withdraw or revise the methane rule, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke should make that a priority. The GOP cannot afford similar failures on tax reform or health care.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *