House spending bill amended to defund EPA methane regulations

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On September 13, House lawmakers dealt a blow to the controversial Obama-era EPA regulation requiring oil and gas companies to limit methane leaks at new drilling sites. By a vote of 218-195, which included eleven Republican “nays” and three Democratic “yeas,” the House voted to defund the EPA’s enforcement of the regulation. The amendment, proposed by Rep. Markwayne Mullin (R-OK), was attached to the $1.2 trillion House spending bill that passed 211-198 the next day. As the bill heads to the Senate, however, both the spending bill and the EPA regulation face uncertain futures. 

The fate of the regulation has been in question since at least June, when EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced a plan to delay implementation by two years. On July 3, The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Pruitt’s attempt to delay the implementation of the regulation was “tantamount to amending or revoking a rule,” and therefore beyond Pruitt’s authority under the Clean Air Act. In order to undo the regulation, the court ruled, Pruitt and the EPA would need to conduct a formal rule-making process, which could take years. 

This week’s developments in the House, then, signal a determination to not just end the regulation or otherwise avoid its implementation, but to do so as quickly as possible. The move is also consistent with the Trump administration’s stated goal of cutting EPA funding by 31 percent and generally chipping away at government regulations seen as harmful to business. 

While proponents argue that the regulation is necessary to protect the environment from avoidable releases of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, critics of the regulation cite the multitude of state regulations covering methane emissions with which the oil and gas industry already complies. A federal regulation with the same objective but differing requirements, they argue, only increases red tape and paperwork without any tangible benefit. In addition, Rep. Mullin cited during debate an estimate that the regulation would cost the U.S. economy $530 million annually. 

If the defunding amendment doesn’t survive the Senate and the regulation continues on track toward implementation, we should expect additional challenges, by any means available, in the very near future. 

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