A Few Republican Senators Helped Save an Obama-Era Climate Rule

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John McCain was a last-minute recruit for Democrats fighting the final 2017 congressional initiative to override an Obama regulation, leaving Mike Pence waiting to break a tie that never occurred. Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Had this happened on any day other than the day after the shock firing of an FBI director, it would have been a pretty big deal: For the first time in 14 tries, the Senate rejected a bid under the Congressional Review Act to overturn a late Obama-administration regulation.

The particular Obama rule (issued by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management) in question had the advantage of being justifiable on both environmental and fiscal grounds: It limited venting or burning of methane (the main ingredient in natural gas) at oil and gas drilling sites on public lands, generally conducted by private companies wanting to concentrate on high-priced oil. Such “wastage” was costing taxpayers an estimated $330 million a year in lost royalties, and releasing greenhouse gases that are, in the near term, far more potent than carbon dioxide.

Still, the defeat for the administration-sponsored repeal effort was a surprise, mainly attributable to John McCain unexpectedly joining Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham in voting no. Energy state Democrats Heidi Heitkamp (whose state is ground zero for the “wastage”) and Joe Manchin also wound up voting against the repeal.

In any event, this win for environmentalists and the corresponding defeat for the administration and its congressional allies (not to mention the fossil-fuel industry) closes the books on this year’s unprecedented use of fast-track CRA procedures to repeal regulations (only one had ever occurred prior to 2017), since the “window” for taking these actions under expedited rules expires this week. The GOP’s 13–1 record is very good given the narrow margin of Republican control in the Senate and the impressive discipline of the chamber’s Democrats. But this last one has got to sting.

A Few GOP Senators Helped Save an Obama-Era Climate Rule