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House GOP Working on 'Larger Bill' to Block Methane Rules

House Republicans are working on "a larger bill" to block final rules on methane emissions -- and possibly others -- from taking effect after one GOP lawmaker's plan to invoke a rare parliamentary procedure to block the rules failed because too much time elapsed since their introduction.

Meanwhile, Democrats and Republicans began girding for a showdown over GOP plans to repeal or rescind environmental legislation and policies enacted during the Obama administration.

Last Friday, Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) introduced HJ Res. 22, which calls on Congress to invoke the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to block three final rules for methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. The rules were unveiled last summer by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

Under the CRA, Congress has a 60-day window where it can expedite the rejection of proposed regulation. But Perry spokesman George O'Connor told NGI's Shale Dailythat shortly after HJ Res 22 was introduced, legislative staff discovered that it had been more than 60 days since the rules were published in the Federal Register.

"We came to this [situation] because there had been public quotes from House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy saying that this methane rule is something that we'd like to see the CRA invoked for," O'Connor said Tuesday. "We heard from the legislative council that we were good to go. And then just the other day we heard that this is outside the 60-day [period] for invoking the CRA...

"It will still be officially introduced and on the record, but it's just not going to move."

O'Connor said Perry and his Republican colleagues in the House would continue to work toward blocking the methane rules. "Our legislative guys are putting together a larger bill right now," he said. "We're moving forward with a legislative vehicle [to block the rules]."

The GOP's plans aren't sitting well with Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee. In a letter dated Monday to other Democrats on the committee, Grijalva called GOP efforts to invoke the CRA "a colossal waste of taxpayer money for the sole benefit of the oil, gas and coal industries."

Grijalva specifically took issue with McCarthy's comments last week to use the CRA to target two final rules issued last fall by the Department of Interior (DOI) -- the Stream Protection Rule and the Methane Waste Prevention Rule (MWPR). The latter, to be implemented over time by the DOI's Bureau of Land Management, requires oil and gas producers to use currently available technologies and processes to cut flaring by half at oil wells on public and tribal lands.

"The MWPR seeks to modernize and improve outdated 35-year-old standards on venting and flaring and comes after a years-long public process of input and comment, yet there have been no hearings on that rule since it was finalized in November," Grijalva said. "Rather than an open discussion on the merits of these rules, [McCarthy] has simply parroted industry talking points and scare tactics."

Two industry groups -- the Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America -- sued the DOI in U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming immediately after the MWPR was introduced. Montana and Wyoming followed with a separate lawsuit, which was later joined by North Dakota. Both cases were consolidated on Nov. 30.

Opening arguments over a preliminary injunction to block the MWPR were heard last Friday, with District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl presiding. The lead case is State of Wyoming et al v. United States Department of the Interior et al [No. 2:16-cv-00285-SWS].

Last week, the House lawmakers passed HR 21 and HR 26. The former, also known as the "Midnight Rules Relief Act," calls for amending the CRA to allow Congress to issue a joint resolution of disapproval for a block of rules, or "en bloc."

Meanwhile, HR 26, officially the "Regulations From the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act," would require federal agencies promulgating a major rule to publish information about it in the Federal Register, and include a report to Congress and the Government Accountability Office that would include a cost-benefit analysis.

The three EPA rules, collectively updates to the New Source Performance Standards, are designed to reduce methane, volatile organic compounds and toxic air pollutants. EPA said its actions will help the Obama administration meet its goal of slashing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% from 2012 levels by 2025.

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