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US Senate fails to repeal flaring rule: Update

10 May 2017 19:48 (+01:00 GMT)
US Senate fails to repeal flaring rule: Update

Adds detail on US Interior Department's plans for the rule

Washington, 10 May (Argus) — The Republican-led US Senate today voted against repealing flaring restrictions adopted under former president Barack Obama, dealing a setback to oil and gas companies that have been lobbying to scrap the regulations.

The surprise defeat of the measure came as senator John McCain (R-Arizona) unexpectedly voted no in a procedural vote. Senators Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) also voted no, resulting in a 49-51 vote against holding a vote later today to disapprove the regulations under the Congressional Review Act. Democrats were united in voting against repealing the flaring regulations.

Even though the repeal measure failed to pass, the US Interior Department today said it will "suspend, revise or rescind" the regulations because of the burden it would impose on industry. The regulations, finalized last year, would require oil and gas producers on federal land to reduce flaring and leaks of the greenhouse gas methane. Interior today said the rule would have "real and harmful impacts" on energy production that could hurt independent oil and gas producers.

The defeat of the measure today caught industry groups and environmentalists by surprise. Senate leadership rarely holds votes that lack enough support to pass because it would waste valuable time on the floor. The deadline for using the Congressional Review Act to throw out Obama administration regulations expires tomorrow.

The Congressional Review Act sets up fast-track procedures for Congress to disapprove recent federal rules by a simple majority vote. But critics worried using the law against the flaring rules would block the government from reducing the waste of publicly owned gas, as the law bars rules that are "substantially the same form" of rules that are repealed.

Oil and gas companies say the regulations are unneeded and a back-door attempt by the prior administration to regulate air quality, something that is already overseen by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). They have sued to block the regulations but had expected for a quick disapproval of the rules through action in the Congress.

The industry trade group the American Petroleum Institute, which is suing to block the regulation, said it was disappointed the measure failed. Environmentalists, meanwhile, were jubilant. Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune said it was a defeat for "corporate polluters and their allies in the White House."

The Trump administration's plans to rescind or revise the flaring regulations will require a full rulemaking process that could take more than a year to complete and would have to survive judicial review. US interior secretary Ryan Zinke last week, in a letter, said he was committed to cutting waste of natural gas on public land.

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