Senate Blocks Repeal of an Obama-Administration Environmental Regulation

by Paul Crookston

In a surprising victory for Obama’s environmental policy, the Senate voted against rescinding the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) regulation curbing methane emissions, with Lindsey Graham, Susan Collins, and John McCain joining the Democrats in voting Nay. McCain’s was the surprise vote; he took issue with the fact that the administration wouldn’t be able to issue a “similar” regulation if Congress used the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to rescind it. With respect to Senator McCain, that is the point.

Administrative rulemaking should have a check in Congress, and using the CRA to rescind this methane regulation would not have prevented future methane regulations. What it would have done is require congressional approval for future regulations of methane emissions, which is wholly appropriate.

McCain seemed to imply that rescinding the rule would have imperiled future action on methane. “While I am concerned that the BLM rule may be onerous,” McCain said in a statement, “passage of the resolution would have prevented the federal government, under any administration, from issuing a rule that is ‘similar,’ according to the plain reading of the Congressional Review Act.” This is only true with regard to unchecked executive-branch power. With Congress’s approval, the federal government can still impose regulations after CRA reversals.

This methane regulation costs energy producers almost $2 billion, which consumers shoulder through higher prices, and BLM’s authority to regulate air quality is dubious at best (the EPA has the authority to regulate air quality, and they have methane regulations of their own). Republicans have used the CRA to good effect this year — repealing 13 regulations from Obama’s last days in office — and this was a missed opportunity to further alleviate overregulation.

Perhaps the Interior Department will appropriately deal with BLM’s methane regulation on their own, as McCain advised in his statement. But Congress should not accept flawed regulations because writing new ones would require their authorization. Abdicating that responsibility empowers the overgrown administrative apparatus.

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