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The U.S. Senate voted Wednesday to overturn Trump-era rollbacks on Environmental Protection Agency methane regulations.
Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., led the push for the joint resolution to restore federal methane standards at oil and gas pipelines, wells, and storage facilities.
“When we set clear rules and emission standards, most oil and gas operators are on board with updating their equipment and practices to minimize methane leaks and to bring that gas to market,” Heinrich said before the 52-42 vote. “That’s their business plan, not wasting methane.”
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas and the main ingredient in natural gas.
Senate passage of the resolution, enabled by a law allowing Congress to overturn rules issued by federal agencies, follows a long battle over the EPA’s authority to monitor the pollutant.
The EPA under President Barack Obama in 2012 and 2016 finalized methane monitoring at oil and gas production sites, and transmission infrastructure.
The Trump administration officially repealed the rules in 2020. The EPA cited “redundant” regulations as reason for the rollback and estimated industry compliance cost savings of up to $19 million a year.
Resolution co-sponsor Sen. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., said it would reinstate “commonsense” rules that had been “gutted.”
“Time is running out. Greenhouse gas emissions are fueling the climate crisis, and present a real and urgent threat to the health, safety, and well-being of New Mexico families,” Luján said. “… Each year, New Mexico loses hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue from methane flaring, venting and leaking. The cost of inaction is too great.”
Last month, New Mexico banned routine venting and flaring of natural gas, and set gas capture targets for operators.
Environmental groups said the Senate action will help oil-producing states reduce harmful emissions.
“New Mexico has an enormous methane emissions problem, which requires the federal government, state agencies and industry take immediate comprehensive action,” said Demis Foster, executive director of Conservation Voters New Mexico. “(This resolution) is critical to this effort.”
The House is expected to vote on the resolution next month.
Theresa Davis is a Report for America corps member covering water and the environment for the Albuquerque Journal.