STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
Congress wants to revive rules limiting the oil and gas industries' leaks of methane. Methane is a significant source of human-caused greenhouse gases. NPR's Jeff Brady is covering the story. Jeff, good morning.
JEFF BRADY, BYLINE: Good morning.
INSKEEP: When we say revive rules, what are lawmakers trying to do?
BRADY: Well, they first need to reverse a Trump administration regulation from last year that essentially rolled back previous rules limiting methane leaks from oil and gas. And with the Trump rules gone, stricter Obama-era regulations would be reinstated. Those require drillers to look for and plug leaks across the production process from the well to pipelines and valves along the way. This is the first time Democrats have used the Congressional Review Act to eliminate rules from the last administration. You may remember, Republicans used the law quite a bit at the start of the Trump administration. It's significant that Democrats are choosing methane for this action because scientists tell us that fixing those leaks now, it provides a jumpstart on addressing climate change.
INSKEEP: Oh, that's interesting. So it's like a regulatory yo-yo. Obama did one thing; Trump went the other way; now they're going back again. But what makes methane such a big deal?
BRADY: Well, methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than the one we mostly have heard of - carbon dioxide. Some estimates show it has more than 80 times the heat-trapping power of CO2, at least for the first two decades that it's in the atmosphere. An Environmental Defense Fund study recently showed that cutting methane emissions now could save the rate of - could slow the rate of global warming by as much as 30%. Dan Grossman with the group says that means a faster climate payoff.
DAN GROSSMAN: If we're really going to bend the curve of greenhouse gas emissions to a way that we can stave off the most disruptive aspects of climate change, we have to bend that curve more quickly. And reducing methane emissions from the oil and gas sector is the easiest, most practical way to do that.
BRADY: The White House says methane is responsible for about a third of the global warming we're experiencing now. And since the oil and gas sector is the largest methane emitter, the administration says it makes sense to crack down there.
INSKEEP: What do oil and gas companies think about that?
BRADY: It might be a little surprising because the industry is split on this. Big companies who are heavily invested in natural gas, they support the Obama regulations. Methane is the main ingredient in natural gas. And those big oil companies worry that if methane leaks aren't fixed, that will undermine their argument that gas is cleaner to burn than coal. Smaller companies, they oppose the Obama regulations generally, especially those with wells that don't produce much. They say expensive leak control measures could make their wells financially unviable. West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito, she argued against the resolution. She said the industry already is reducing methane emissions.
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SHELLEY MOORE CAPITO: We shouldn't demonize an industry that is part of the lifeblood of our economy. We should celebrate the emission reduction accomplishments and look for ways to further incentivize those.
BRADY: That didn't sway enough of her colleagues, though. The Senate voted to reverse the Trump regulations. A few GOP senators even crossed the aisle to vote with Democrats. Now the resolution goes to the House, where a vote is expected in coming weeks.
INSKEEP: Jeff, thanks so much.
BRADY: Thank you.
INSKEEP: That's NPR's Jeff Brady.
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