WASHINGTON — Congressional Democrats are moving to reinstate regulations designed to limit climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas fields, as part of a broader effort by the Biden administration to tackle climate change.
The Senate approved a resolution Wednesday that would undo an environmental rollback by President Donald Trump that relaxed requirements of a 2016 Obama administration rule targeting methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.
The resolution was approved, 52-42. Three Republican senators — Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Rob Portman of Ohio — joined 49 Democrats to approve the measure, which only needed a simple majority under Senate rules. Five Republicans and one Democrat did not vote.
The legislation now goes to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to win approval.
The Environmental Protection Agency approved the looser methane rule last year. The agency’s former administrator, Andrew Wheeler, declared the change would “strengthen and promote American energy’’ while saving companies tens of millions of dollars a year in compliance requirements.
Democrats and environmentalists called it one of the Trump administration’s most egregious actions to deregulate US businesses. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, packing a stronger punch in the short term than even carbon dioxide.
Preventing methane leaks at oil and gas sites “is a huge part of how we prevent a 1.5 degree (Celsius) rise in global temperatures,’’ a key aim of the climate movement, said Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M.
Heinrich, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, co-sponsored the resolution under the Congressional Review Act, which allows Congress to overturn certain regulations that have been in place for a short time. The Trump rule was finalized last September.
Heinrich called the resolution “a no-brainer,” saying that preventing leaks of methane — a type of natural gas — will save companies money, put people to work and help prevent global warming.
“I’m surprised and a little disappointed this is not broadly bipartisan,’’ Heinrich said, noting that many energy companies, including Shell Oil Co., Occidental Petroleum and Cheniere Energy Inc., support reinstatement of the Obama-era rule.
“It’s sort of inertia and dogma at this point” for Republicans to oppose tighter restrictions on methane emissions, he said in an interview.
Collins, who joined with Democrats to block a GOP-led effort to overturn a similar Obama-era methane rule in 2017, said the move to undo the Trump-era rule would “protect public health and the environment by restoring the tougher standards at EPA that significantly decreased methane emissions.”
Graham, who also voted with Democrats in 2017, called methane leaks “unnecessary emissions,’’ adding that if energy companies “can do something about it, they’ll need to do it.’’
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said Democrats appear intent on demonizing natural gas even though increased natural gas production — spurred by the fracking boom — “actually helped lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions’’ over the past decade.
Capito, the top Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said President Joe Biden “managed to kill thousands of jobs and paralyze America’s energy industry with executive orders” soon after taking office, including withdrawal of a permit for the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Another order, freezing new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, “is an economic, energy and national security disaster rolled into one,’’ she said.