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Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT) said House lawmakers plan to invoke the Congressional Review Act (CRA) this week to repeal two rules enacted during the Obama administration, including the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) rules governing flaring and venting of associated natural gas on public and tribal lands.
During a conference call, Bishop, who chairs the powerful House Committee on Natural Resources, said his colleagues also plan to use the CRA to repeal the Stream Protection Rule, which was promulgated by the Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement (OSMRE). Both BLM and OSMRE are agencies within the Department of Interior.
"Next week, Congress will begin a series of actions to repeal what I believe are abusive, last-minute regulations that are grossly inconsistent with Congressional intent, or were acted upon without statutory authority," Bishop said Friday. "If implemented, both of these rules will impose real and unnecessary harm on people."
Under the CRA, Congress has a 60-day window where it can expedite the rejection of proposed regulation. Republicans have been gearing up to use the CRA since the election, and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy penned an opinion column in the Wall Street Journallast week outlining the plan.
Bishop said that he will introduce a joint resolution of disapproval over BLM's flaring and venting rules on Monday. Meanwhile, Reps. Bill Johnson (R-OH), David McKinley (R-WV) and Evan Jenkins will introduce a similar joint resolution targeting the stream protection rule. The latter will be supported by Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), a member of the committee.
"Congress has an obligation to ensure executive actions are consistent with Congressional intent, and that agencies operate in accordance with their statutory mandate," Bishop said. "When they don't, and in this case they haven't, it is our responsibility to act.
"For years, our committee and others in the House, and even in the Senate, have conducted aggressive and thorough oversight throughout the rulemaking process for both of these rules. They have been vetted. We've heard the testimony. We've heard from states [and] communities. They've all rejected the executive abuse, and there is consensus that bureaucracy has been hijacked for the purpose of ideological aims, rather than responsible regulation."
BLM unveiled the flaring and venting rules one year ago. The rules call for requiring oil and gas producers to use currently available technologies and processes to cut flaring in half at oil wells on public and tribal lands. Operators would also be required to periodically inspect facilities for leaks and replace outdated equipment that vents large quantities of gas into the air.
Other parts of the rule require operators to limit venting from storage tanks and to use best practices to limit gas losses when removing liquids from wells.
Several states and industry groups, including the Western Energy Alliance (WEA), have since filed lawsuits over the rules.
"If the BLM had focused on where its authority remains -- which is on determining what is avoidable lost natural gas and unavoidably lost natural gas, and determining when avoidably lost gas has royalties associated with it -- I don't think I would be here today talking to you about the CRA," WEA President Kathleen Sgamma said during the conference call. "However, BLM went beyond its authority under the Mineral Leasing Act, and imposed a new air quality control regime that clearly usurps the EPA [U.S. Environmental Protection Agency] and state authority to regulate air quality."
Sgamma added that BLM's flaring and venting rules are counterproductive because they "will actually lead to wasted oil and natural resources, as wells are shut in because this rule is too costly and oversteps BLM's statutory authority."
Despite a mix-up over invoking the CRA to repeal methane rules promulgated by EPA earlier this month, Bishop insisted that the rarely used parliamentary procedure was the right tool for the job in bringing down the two aforementioned rules because they are "probably the most egregious of all the rules that we can take." He also predicted that lawmakers in the Senate would use the CRA because it does not require a 60-vote threshold for it to be invoked successfully.
"We're a little bit ahead of how many of those [regulations] I want to be done administratively and how many I want to be done legislatively," Bishop said. "My personal preference would be for Congress to take over the policymaking responsibility as much as possible, and if nothing else try and redefine what coordination and cooperation actually means in the statute. [That is what] is supposed to take place, and especially for these two rules it did not happen.
"If we could actually redefine how the agencies are supposed to be working with states and the industry, so that they get real input and don't go off on rogue rulemaking avenues, I will feel much better with having it done administratively. But if not, then I definitely want Congress to step in and reassert its responsibility in actually establishing precedent and the parameter of what those rules can be in the future."
When asked if he would also like to see EPA's three final rules governing methane emissions from new oil and gas wells rolled back, Bishop said he would like Congress to have an opportunity to at least review them.
"I want to see them addressed and I want to see Congress having more input than it's had in the past. It's Congress's responsibility to establish that kind of standard. The method we're going to use in the future is not quite clear at this time because I want to see how we do on this approach first."
Bishop also said lawmakers would also review the "social cost of carbon" methodology for crafting regulation. The metric, which is used to calculate the cost to society from one ton of carbon dioxide (CO2) being emitted into the atmosphere, was cited by the Trump transition team in its controversial questionnaire to employees and contractors working for the Department of Energy.
"We believe that BLM has grossly underestimated the cost of the rule," Sgamma said, adding that BLM's rule would cost the industry $1.26 billion annually. "The only way that BLM finds a benefit from the rule is by using the social cost of methane, and we all know how flowed the calculations on the social of carbon and methane are. You might as well pull a number out of the air.
"Only by usurping EPA's authority and claiming benefits from reduced methane can BLM claim that this rule has any benefit at all, but the cost is clearly well in excess of what BLM is claiming."