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Tierna Unruh-Enos is the managing editor and associate publisher at The Paper.

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The Senate passed (52-42) a resolution on Wednesday that would reinstate the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 methane pollution regulations for the oil and gas industry.

The measure was introduced by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), New Mexico Senator Martin Heinrich, and Senators Angus King (I-ME) and Ed Markey (D-MA). Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced a companion resolution in the House. New Mexico’s other senator, Ben Ray Lujan, was a key supporter. They were joined by 3 Republicans, Lindsey Graham (SC), Susan Collins (ME) and Rob Portman (OH). The move is seen as another critical step in undoing the previous administration’s attempts to remove climate and public health protections.

Despite data showing large increases in methane emissions from oil and gas production in recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under the Trump administration completed a rollback of critical methane emissions regulations created during the Obama administration, weakening and in some cases eliminating altogether any requirements that oil and natural gas companies limit methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions from their operations. 

But presidents don’t always have the last say in how rules are implemented. Under the Congressional Review Act, Congress can review and disapprove of certain federal regulations within 60 days of their implementation by a simple majority vote. In this case, the resolution of disapproval of Trump’s 2020 Methane Rescission Rule issued in the final days of his administration. Repealing Trump’s rule largely reinstates the 2012 and 2016 Oil and Natural Gas New Source Performance Standards (NSPS). Among those are methane requirements for the industry’s production and processing segments and the methane and VOC requirements for the transmission and storage segments. 

“In the wake of the Trump administration, there are very few Clean Air Act protections left in place to limit emissions of dangerous methane pollution from the production, processing, transmission and storage of oil and gas in the United States. As a greenhouse gas, methane has over 80 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide in the short term. But even absent its consequences for climate change, methane leaks waste valuable energy resources and harm public health. When methane leaks from oil and gas wells, harmful carcinogens like benzene leak into the air alongside it. That means children are suffering more asthma attacks, and seniors are having trouble breathing,” said Sen. Heinrich. 

“Congress is taking swift action to reinstate and strengthen responsible methane emission standards, which is critical to confronting the climate crisis and reducing the air pollution harming communities in New Mexico.”

Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas—causing 84 times the global warming of an equal quantity of carbon dioxide over two decades after emission—and the oil and gas industry is the largest emitter of methane in the United States. In New Mexico, the oil and gas industry is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions.

An image released by NASA shows the Four Corners area of New Mexico as a hot spot for methane emissions.
JPL-Caltech, University of Michigan via NASA

Efforts to regulate methane took on new urgency after a NASA study found a methane cloud, invisible with the naked eye, as large as the state of Delaware hanging over the Four Corners region that is a hub for oil and gas production.

On March 25, the New Mexico Oil Conservation Commission’s (OCC) voted to adopt a proposed new rule by the state’s Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department (EMNRD) that limits venting and flaring of methane by the oil and gas industry. The ruling holds the oil and gas industry accountable for emitting massive amounts of greenhouse gases and reduces methane waste pollution from the oil and gas industry on public lands.

The House is expected to vote on the methane pollution measure in two weeks.

Read more on The Paper.’s ongoing coverage about methane emission regulations in New Mexico:

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