Senate Democrats voted to reinstate federal limits on methane emissions on Wednesday, overturning their first Trump-era regulation by using a time-sensitive legislative maneuver afforded to them under the Congressional Review Act.
President Donald Trump’s administration rolled back the Obama-era rule last year despite opposition from some large oil and gas companies. Congressional Democrats pledged to restore it as a way to combat global climate change.
Speaking with reporters ahead of the vote, Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) called it “the most important environmental vote of this decade.” Republican Sens. Susan Collins (Maine), Rob Portman (Ohio), and Lindsey Graham (S.C.) joined every Democrat in voting to reinstate the rule.
Methane gas is often released from wells during oil and gas production. It’s more potent than carbon dioxide and is a powerful contributor to global warming. Toxic chemicals and air pollutants are also released alongside methane that can lead to cancer, birth defects and respiratory issues.
Plumes of methane that are invisible to the naked eye routinely spill out of industrial facilities. In northwestern New Mexico, for example, a huge methane cloud is even visible by satellite, threatening Indigenous communities.
Democrats made the case for reinstating limits on methane as an issue of equity. Studies find that Black and Latino communities are disproportionately exposed to air pollutants and that they suffer a higher risk of premature death as a result.
The Congressional Review Act gives lawmakers the ability to overturn federal agency regulations that were recently made final with a simple majority vote in the Senate. Republicans used it to repeal many Obama-era regulations dealing with climate and labor issues.
But Democrats have been slow to do the same this year ― and their time to repeal many Trump-era rules is quickly running out. Their new Senate majority has been preoccupied with things like passing coronavirus relief and confirming President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
Democrats are also expected to vote in the coming weeks on overturning a Trump-era rule regarding what information the federal government has to provide to companies regarding discrimination settlements.