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Image: Methane emissions
Pumpjacks work in a field near Lovington, N.M., on April 24, 2015.Charlie Riedel / AP file

Why it matters that Democrats are scrapping Trump's methane rule

It's not just that Democrats are reversing Trump's dangerous methane rule, it's also how they're doing it.


Last fall, the Trump administration completed work on a misguided priority. To help combat the climate crisis, the Obama administration created new requirements on oil and gas companies, forcing them to monitor and address methane emissions, and as Donald Trump's term neared its end, his Republican team dramatically weakened the safeguards, delivering "a gift to many beleaguered oil and gas companies."

From an environmental perspective, the move was a disaster. From a political perspective, however, it ultimately created an opportunity for congressional Democrats. The New York Times reported yesterday on the Senate taking an important step to put things right.

The Senate voted on Wednesday to effectively reinstate an Obama-era regulation designed to clamp down on emissions of methane, a powerful, climate-warming pollutant that will have to be controlled to meet President Biden's ambitious climate change promises.

The resolution cleared the Senate on a 52-42 vote, and now heads to the Democratic-led House, where passage appears to be a foregone conclusion. President Joe Biden is expected to sign it soon after, which will have the effect of re-imposing Obama-era safeguards on the relevant industries.

And while this is obviously good news for those who care about the climate crisis, one of the things that made yesterday's developments in the Senate so notable was not just what members did, but also how they did it.

There's a relatively obscure law called the Congressional Review Act of 1996, which allows policymakers to overturn regulations finalized toward the end of the previous administration. For years, the CRA was hardly used at all: In 2001, George W. Bush and lawmakers undid a Clinton-era rule on workplace ergonomics, which was hardly front-page news.

But in 2017, after more than two decades in which the Congressional Review Act was seen as little more than an afterthought, Donald Trump and Republicans started swinging the CRA like a bat to crush 14 policies approved in the waning months of Barack Obama's second term.

In fact, remember the controversy over GOP lawmakers, in Trump's first term, making it easier for the mentally impaired to buy guns? That was one of the 14 safeguards Republicans scrapped by using the Congressional Review Act.

Now, Democrats are using the same tool for the first time, focusing first on methane emissions, and thanks to the way the law is structured, there's no 60-vote threshold to worry about: CRA resolutions cannot be filibustered.

Senate Democrats are likely to use the Congressional Review Act again, but the window is closing. The New York Times' report added, "Democrats plan to use the procedure just once more in the coming weeks, before their window to do so expires in late May, with a vote to repeal a labor rule that had made it easier for employers to deny worker claims of employment discrimination."