The U.S. Senate voted 51 to 49 today (May 10) to preserve a regulation on methane emissions from natural gas drilling on public and tribal lands.
The GOP-controlled Senate attempted to repeal the regulation using the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which allows Congress to reject recently passed laws—in this case, those approved by former president Barack Obama on or after June 13, 2016—within 60 legislative days of implementation. The resolution passed the House in February and senators had just two days left to pass it. President Donald Trump was expected to sign the resolution if it reached his desk.
“Today’s victory against Trump’s plan to hand our public lands to Big Oil is a win for the American people,” Lukas Ross, a campaigner with environmental organization Friends of the Earth, said in an emailed press release. “Reducing venting and flaring from oil wells will reduce emissions contributing to climate change and save public resources. Today the Senate proved it will not always rob taxpayers to line Big Oil’s pockets.”
The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule in November 2016 after three decades of no updates to the “venting, flaring and leaks of natural gas.” This rule was meant to reduce the amount of wasted natural gas and keep methane emissions to a minimum. Methane is a greenhouse gas that traps heat in the atmosphere at almost 30 times the rate that carbon dioxide does.
In March, Brent Wilkes, the national executive director of the League of United Latin American Citizens, wrote about how repealing this rule would have harmed Latinx communities:
When methane emissions occur, they are often accompanied by the release of cancer-causing toxins like benzene and ozone-forming pollutants. Ozone pollution is a major contributor to the 153,000 childhood asthma attacks that happen each year in Latino communities and worsens pulmonary diseases like emphysema.
Those living closest to oil and gas facilities are most at risk to health impacts. Our report with the Clean Air Task Force and National Hispanic Medical Association found that 1.81 million Latinos live within a half-mile of existing oil and gas operations, exposing our families and communities to environmental dangers.
The Trump Administration has already used the CRA to repeal some Obama-era regulations on the fossil fuel industry, including a regulation on the coal industry meant to protect waterways and another law that required resource extraction companies to disclose payments made to foreign governments.