"Just when we thought all hope was lost, common sense prevailed today in the United States Congress," said Jessica Ennis, senior legislative representative with the environmental law organization Earthjustice.
That's because the Senate on Wednesday failed to pass a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution that would have killed an Obama-era Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rule that limits methane flaring from fossil fuel production on federal and tribal lands.
"Methane is a potent contributor to climate change, and letting companies simply vent or flare methane in vast quantities from their operations on publicly-owned lands is foolhardy," explained Jeremy Martin, senior scientist with the Clean Vehicles Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). "That’s why it's so important that we protect common-sense standards, and why this resolution deserved a 'no' vote."
That vote was 49-51, with three Republicans—Susan Collins of Maine, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Jon McCain of Arizona—joining Democrats in voting "no."
The House already voted to kill the rule, which environmental groups said amounted to "giving away a taxpayer-owned resource for free," and was thanks to the CRA, "a dirty trick that Congress can use to do the oil industry's bidding."
If the resolution had been successful in the Senate, it would have made making fossil fuel companies accountable for their pollution "nearly impossible," said UCS's Martin—"not only would it have overturned current rules, it would have blocked future administrations from setting standards."
Now, with that effort stopped, climate campaigners are cheering, though "[t]he fact that Congress even considered this giveaway to the oil industry is stunning," said Brett Hartl, government affairs director at the Center for Biological Diversity. "We applaud the senators who stepped up to kill this resolution, ensuring that people will breath cleaner air and saving taxpayers millions of dollars."
According to Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth's climate and energy campaigner, the vote marks a "victory against Trump's plan to hand our public lands to Big Oil [and] is a win for the American people. Reducing venting and flaring from oil wells will reduce emissions contributing to climate change and save public resources. Today the Senate proved it will not always rob taxpayers to line Big Oil's pockets," he continued.
Still, it's not the time for climate campaigners to put their guard down.
"While we have beaten back this attack on the BLM methane rule, we know that Trump and his Big Oil cronies are eyeing other avenues," Ross cautioned. "An earlier Executive Order already instructs [Interior Department] Secretary Zinke to examine how to give Big Oil an ever bigger share of our public lands. We will continue to fight against any efforts to endanger the future of our lands and our climate," he said.