House lawmakers last week postponed debate over an appropriations bill to fund the Department of Interior (DOI) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the next fiscal year, but not until after Republican lawmakers successfully tacked on a pair of amendments targeting two controversial Obama-era rules.
The House delayed final passage of HR 3354 until this week. The move allowed lawmakers whose districts were threatened by Hurricane Irma to tend to their constituents.
Last Thursday, Rep. Steve Pearce (R-NM) introduced an amendment to block DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) from implementing its Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule, aka the venting and flaring rule. The amendment passed on Friday by a 216-186 vote.
Pearce said methane historically had been regulated by the EPA, but the venting and flaring rule would place it under the dominion of the BLM. He added that "good wells" aren't at risk by the venting and flaring rule. Rather "what is at stake are the stripper wells, which make up 2.6 billion bbl of production in the U.S. every day, 145 million bbl of production in the state of New Mexico.
"You can imagine the economic catastrophe if that 145 million bbl weren't available to the state to both tax and to provide jobs," Pearce said, according to the Congressional Record. He said the cost for each well to come into compliance is $60,000. “Again, keep in mind that this rule comes after the methane is more carefully controlled today under greater production than it ever has been. The estimates are that we will lose thousands of wells if this venting and flaring rule continues."
New Mexico Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, a Democrat, voiced opposition to her colleague's amendment.
"New Mexico is currently home to the largest methane hot spot in the world," Lujan Grisham said. "Not only is methane a powerful greenhouse gas, but every cubic foot of gas that is wasted into the atmosphere cheats hardworking New Mexican taxpayers out of precious royalty and tax payments which go toward public education, infrastructure, and community development programs.
"Our state desperately needs these investments, and we cannot afford to let money disappear into thin air. BLM, in fact, should work with stakeholders, especially small independent producers who have low-producing wells to make this workable. But taking a sledgehammer to our nation's energy policy is a shortsighted and counterproductive effort."
Also last Thursday, an amendment introduced by Rep. Scott Perry (R-PA) called for preventing funds from being used for the EPA to expand its regulatory scope under Section 115 of the Clean Air Act (CAA) to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. The measure passed on a voice vote.
"This isn't an amendment to assail the CAA, but there is a flaw with it, which is Section 115," Perry said before Thursday's vote. He said President Trump's decision to withdraw the United States from the global climate agreement negotiated in Paris in late 2015 alleviated prior concerns that domestic emissions endanger a foreign nation.
"Whether you agree with this president or the last one or the future president is immaterial," Perry said. "The point is that this portion of the law shouldn't exist. That authority shouldn't exist at the executive level, especially when we don't do treaties anymore.
"Despite the temporary relief, the fact remains that Section 115 of the CAA is just simply bad policy. Section 115 delegates an incredible amount of authority to the executive branch without any safeguards, without any oversight by the legislative branch."
Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) said she opposed Perry's amendment, calling it one in "a long line of Republican amendments on the attack of the clean air and the EPA's authority. But I think this really makes it crystal clear the point that we shouldn't be doing deep policy that you want to discuss on an appropriations bill because it only lasts for a year."
Last March, President Trump signed an executive order that called for, among other things, the DOI to review, rescind or revise the venting and flaring rule. The Independent Petroleum Association of America and the Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit against the rule the previous November. Montana and Wyoming filed a separate lawsuit three days later, and North Dakota and Texas subsequently joined as petitioners. The two lawsuits subsequently were combined.
Lawmakers in the GOP-controlled Senate narrowly failed to pass a bill to repeal the rule in May.