The House has now voted to undo a damaging deregulatory move from the Trump era and concurrently restore regulations covering methane leaks that were originally imposed by the Obama administration. The Senate has already passed a measure undoing that same deregulatory push, so a signature from President Joe Biden seems to be imminent. Both chambers have passed their erasures of the Trump era move under the authority of the Congressional Review Act, which permits Congress to undo any federal regulation within 60 legislative days of its enactment, with just a simple majority required in support of the move (thereby getting past the Senate’s constrictive filibuster rules).
As explained by The Washington Post, formally reinstating the Obama era regulations will mean that “oil and gas companies will have 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.” Methane is a potent greenhouse gas; Inger Andersen, who works as executive director of the United Nations Environment Program, recently said that “[cutting] methane is the strongest lever we have to slow climate change over the next 25 years.”
The Trump administration had removed federal demands surrounding methane in oil and gas operations for the apparent sake of allowing easier business operations. As Trump era Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler put it, the Obama era regulations were “unnecessary and duplicative.” Wheeler added that the Trump administration “recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use.” Supposed incentives don’t always translate into action, however, and using so-called incentives as an excuse for lackadaisical government action could easily lead to damaging impacts down the line.
Now, Sarah Smith, of the environmental advocacy group Clean Air Task Force, characterized Congress’s votes to repeal the Trump era deregulatory push in question as “very important from the perspective of signaling that Congress expects and supports EPA moving forward with stronger methane standards.” Those “stronger standards” could include methane handling regulations covering older oil and gas operations, since the measures that are set to be restored following Biden’s expected signature focus on newer projects.
Meanwhile, the Biden administration has already undertaken other substantive environmental protection pushes. The president’s team has, for instance, unveiled plans to undo a Trump era deregulatory push that removed certain smaller waterways under federal oversight. (Obama’s administration had previously worked to broaden the range of waterways that were subject to federal protections.) Referring to certain language in underlying legislation that provides for federal authority for water regulation, current EPA chief Michael Regan said that authorities are “committed to establishing a durable definition of ‘waters of the United States’ based on Supreme Court precedent and drawing from current and previous regulations… so we can better protect our nation’s waters, foster economic growth and support thriving communities.”