Senate Restores Obama Legacy By Canceling Trump Environmental Law

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The Senate has now approved a measure reinstating an Obama era requirement for oil and gas companies “to check every six months for methane leaks from pipelines, storage tanks and other equipment installed after 2015 — and plug any leak within 30 days after it is detected,” as The Washington Post explains. Trump’s administration had revoked this policy, and the Senate’s move is meant to undo this revocation. Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) described the newly approved Senate initiative as a “repeal of a repeal,” and — if fully enacted — the measure “would effectively restore” the original rule from the Environmental Protection Administration, the Post adds.

The measure that the Senate approved was put forward under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to undo federal regulations (under certain circumstances) with the support of simple majorities from both chambers and an eventual signature from the president. Obviously, with a president of an opposing party in charge, usage of the act by Democrats to reverse policies from the executive branch would be difficult — but with Democrats in control of the House and Biden in the White House, the reversal of the Trump team’s erasure of the Obama era methane guidelines seems set for full enactment.

Three Republican Senators, including Ohio’s Rob Portman, Maine’s Susan Collins, and South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, voted in favor of the reinstatement of the Obama era methane guidelines. Overall, the measure — which is the first usage of the Congressional Review Act against a Trump era regulation — passed the Senate with 52 votes in favor and 42 against. (Not all Senators participated in the vote.) Critically, once a federal regulation has been formally undone via the Congressional Review Act, no measure that is “substantially the same” may be re-adopted by federal agencies in the future. Thus, any usage of the act against Trump era policies could constrain future GOP administrations.

Republicans in the Trump era certainly didn’t hesitate to use the Congressional Review Act for their political wishes — while in control of both chambers of Congress, Republicans undid over a dozen Obama era regulations throughout 2017, including environmental protection and anti-corruption measures. Throughout the Trump era, the then-president consistently refused to approach the climate crisis with any particular level of seriousness. At one point, Trump even said that he simply did not “believe” a report about the looming negative impacts of climate change that had been produced by his own administration. Denying the facts didn’t make the need to protect the environment suddenly vanish, however.

Throughout his time in office, Trump’s administration also repeatedly prioritized the interests of big business in the development of environmental regulations. When Trump was in power, the Environmental Protection Agency “weakened Obama-era limits on planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and from cars and trucks; removed protections from more than half the nation’s wetlands; and withdrew the legal justification for restricting mercury emissions from power plants,” The New York Times reports. Meanwhile, Biden “has targeted 100 of Trump’s energy and environmental policies since taking office… and has reversed 28 of them so far,” The Washington Post adds.