Senate Spares Obama Methane Rule

The Republican U.S. Congress has spent much of the year using a fast-track procedure to overturn federal regulations that were finalized in the waning months of President Obama’s term. That fast-track tool expired in May, after 13 successful repeal efforts and one failed vote. Surprisingly, the one failed vote was the last one, occurring on May 10. The vote was on an environmental regulation aimed at controlling the release of methane (natural gas) from oil and gas wells on federal land.

49 Senators voted to repeal the regulation, and with 52 Republicans in the Senate that means that three crossed party lines. John McCain of Arizona, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Susan Collins of Maine all voted to protect the rule. Environmental groups openly admitted that they were surprised to win the vote, as only Sens. Collins and Graham had announced their planned vote. Sen. McCain was unexpected, but perhaps he should not have been. The three senators are some of the last remaining members of what was once a bipartisan coalition supporting cap-and-trade legislation. In 2008, Sen. McCain argued for aggressive actions that would cut emissions by 60% below 1990 levels by 2050.

This vote could be a sign of growing support for climate action within the Republican party. Public polls show 40% of the party is concerned about climate change. A number of popular figures in the party, like former Secretary of State George Shultz and former Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson, have begun calling for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. 17 Republican Members of Congress introduced a resolution this year calling for climate action. Senate Republicans do not have a similar resolution in the works, but many are getting comfortable with efforts that reduce greenhouse gas emissions, like the Tropical Forest Conservation Reauthorization Act. More compromise may be in the future. It is worth remembering that Republicans led the House of Representatives when it extended the solar and wind tax credits at the end of 2015.

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