The U.S. House passed a resolution Friday to reinstate Obama-era rules curbing methane emissions from newer oil and gas wells, a measure that would affect New Mexico’s growing fossil fuel industry.

The resolution, which received a 229-191 vote and mirrors a Senate bill passed in April, will go to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it.

Environmental groups lauded the action, calling it a much-needed step in curtailing air pollution that threatens public health and exacerbates climate change.

“It’s especially important in New Mexico because you’re seeing so much new drilling and new sources coming online,” said Jon Goldstein, state policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund.

Aside from restoring previous U.S. Environmental Protection Agency rules, the bill will lay the groundwork for the agency to adopt more stringent rules that cover the tens of thousands of wells installed before 2016 — which account for most methane emissions, Goldstein said.

As a greenhouse gas, methane has more than 80 times the impact on climate than carbon dioxide.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic and a market downturn cutting back oil and gas drilling, methane emissions were the fifth highest since the late 1950s, according to a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration report.

Industry groups have expressed mixed opinions about state and federal efforts to stem the potent greenhouse gas, with some arguing tougher rules hurt smaller operators. But restoring the 2016 rules has drawn support from several large oil producers such as BP and a list of trade groups.

These groups and some Republican lawmakers contend that evolving technology is already cutting methane pollution.

A New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman echoed that sentiment in an email while insisting the state’s industry is committed to releasing less methane.

“Industry-led efforts to reduce emissions are working, and will hopefully be recognized by federal policymakers,” spokesman Robert McEntyre wrote. “Technology is rapidly advancing and has made significant strides since the initial federal methane rules were put into place four and a half years ago. This fact should be reflected in any policy directly regulating methane today or in the future.”

But one industry advocacy group bluntly criticized the measure in an email, calling it another attack on oil and gas producers.

“Sadly, this measure will likely lead to cost increases for consumers and even job losses for smaller producers in a state where gas prices are up 50 percent over last year and our unemployment rate is the second worst in the nation,” wrote Larry Behrens, director of nonprofit Power the Future’s Western states chapter.

State regulators contend the restored federal rules will dovetail with New Mexico’s recent push to strengthen oversight of fossil fuel pollution.

It will help ensure that neighboring states also control emissions so the pollution doesn’t drift across the borders, state Environment Secretary James Kenney wrote in an email.

“A national framework to reduce oil and gas emissions is essential to establish a level playing field across states,” Kenney wrote. “This will further benefit air quality in New Mexico by reducing the transport of emissions from other states.”

This marks the first congressional action to reverse a Trump-era environmental policy and also the first time Democratic lawmakers have used the Congressional Review Act to overturn federal regulation.

Republicans under President Donald Trump used the CRA to undo several Obama administration rules, including one that barred mining companies from dumping waste into waterways.

One conservationist praised the use of the CRA to bring back what she said was vital climate and air-quality protection.

The rules would form the basis for the EPA to issue new regulations for methane across all industry operations, including older, higher-polluting ones, said Camilla Feibelman, director of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter.

Last week, the EPA held “listening sessions” that allowed the public to comment on the need for stricter fossil fuel regulations, Feibelman said, adding that the agency plans to make updates later this year.

Operators should be required to capture 65 percent of methane emissions by 2025, she said.

“It’s been five years since these rules went into effect,” Feibelman said. “We’re gonna need to make the rules even stronger if they’re going to be meaningful in this climate moment.”

(4) comments

Charlotte Rowe

This is a good start but it's only a first step.

Russell Scanlon

And this is the same Mike Johnson who mocked ME last week for overreacting. . .Surely there must be some middle ground between Greenpeace and the Monopoly Banker Guy.

Mike Johnson

The children of NM will be the victims of this partisan legislation. Production will be reduced, thus any revenues from same to the state, especially children, will be greatly diminished. But, that is what the left wing wants, more dependency of the people on the government dole so as to enhance their power and egos.

ba hop

sure... & what the unregulated capitalistic right refuses to understand --is that without climate change regulation? there won't be a world for your children to live in -PERIOD.

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