Is A Republican Rift Forming? 3 Republican Senators Break With The Pollution Party On Methane Rule

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Members of the Republican Party sitting in Congress have been particularly good at sticking with the “party line” on a wide range of issues — even when that means pouring more pollution into their constituents’ throats, working to increase the number of superstorms that slam the East Coast and the dramatic droughts that destroy the Southwest, voting through health care bills or amendments that make it much more expensive for normal Americans to get health care (apparently, just so the richest among us can keep more money in overinflated bank accounts), and pretending Donald Trump’s potentially corrupt connections and actions in regard to Russia wouldn’t have their faces exploding with range if it had been Obama in such a situation.

There are many issues on which Republicans in Congress vote against the preferences of their constituents simply because that’s what the party leaders say they need to do, but there may be no topic where this is more the case than the topic of energy.

Pollution industries (coal, oil, and gas) send nearly 100% of their political cash to Republicans. It’s a strikingly one-sided story for them. Incidentally, the Republican Party votes on the side of these pollution industries nearly 100% of the time. And by “Republican Party,” that basically means every single Republican. The thing is, even if some sensible, science-respecting, health-concerned, humanity-loving Republicans want to vote on the side of clean air and a livable climate, they know that the Koch Brothers, Chevron, Exxon, or other pollution giants will heavily fund a Republican primary challenger to remove them from Congress if they break rank. Among other reasons, this is likely a core reason why these cowardly politicians don’t follow their own moral compass.

Frankly, I think Democrats would be wise to put a lot more attention on this matter and label the GOP the “Pollution Party,” but I’m not sure if I have the connections needed to get that message across. (That said, Bernie Sanders did share one of our stories on Facebook yesterday!)

The good news is that some Republicans in Congress seem to be growing a moral backbone on the greatest threat to the human race … maybe. As Steve wrote the other day, there’s now a Climate Solutions Caucus in Congress. It is bringing together both Democrats and Republicans who want to work on stopping global warming.

Following that story, we now have substantive news on 3 US senators breaking rank in order to protect an Obama rule regarding methane emissions. Needless to say, progressive climate hawks were jubilant. Think Progress reports:

“The Senate failed to advance a resolution Wednesday morning that would have nullified a Bureau of Land Management methane waste prevention rule. Three Republicans — Sens. John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), and Lindsey Graham (SC) — sided with Democrats against allowing a vote on the resolution to proceed.

“The vote marks a surprise defeat of congressional Republicans’ campaign to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal a host of Obama-era regulations. The House passed a resolution in February to repeal the rule, but it was uncertain whether the Senate would approve the resolution before the deadline for using the CRA to repeal the rule expired.

“As it turned out, the uncertainty over the future of the CRA resolution was justified.”

League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski said:

“This is a huge win for our health, our clean air, and our climate, and shows that President Trump’s plans to unravel hard-won environmental protections are not a foregone conclusion.”

Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said:

“Today is a victory for our public lands and for the health of families across America, and a defeat for Donald Trump, corporate polluters, and their friends on Capitol Hill. People across the country will continue to resist and hold Congress and Trump accountable for any efforts to put the profits of polluters before the health of our families and our communities.”

This particular instance may seem like a simple vote and technical matter, but I think it’s a big deal. Sure, McCain, Graham, and Collins aren’t likely to get knocked out of the Senate for standing up to the pollution industry and the ant-like Republican voting policy.

Getting back to the technicality of the methane rule decision, here’s more from Think Progress:

“Based on estimates, the rule will prevent the waste of 65 billion cubic feet of natural gas a year and save taxpayers $330 million annually. The repeal of the rule would have allowed for the unregulated release of a gas that traps 86 times more heat than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. Because taxpayers collect royalties from energy produced on public lands, repealing the rule also could have reduced direct payments to taxpayers by $800 million over the next decade, according to the Western Values Project.

“In March 1996, President Bill Clinton signed into law the Congressional Review Act, which Congress passed as part of the so-called Contract for America pushed by Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-GA) and other Republicans. The law empowers Congress to review new federal regulations issued by government agencies and, by passage of a joint resolution, overrule a regulation.

“The CRA expressly prohibits agencies from issuing new rules “substantially the same” as one it has nullified. In fact, no agency has ever reissued a rule to replace a measure rescinded under the CRA, and no court has addressed whether such a rule would be valid. This ensures that any meaningful effort by the agency to address the problem would be met with years of costly litigation. …

“If Republicans thought the methane waste rule went too far and if they wanted to change it, Democrats were ‘more than happy to sit down and discuss that,’ Cantwell said. By enacting the rollback, Republicans bar Congress from taking any action on that agenda legislatively. Nothing else can be done on this subject matter for that particular rule.”

Also, something that will hardly be mentioned in mainstream media coverage of the news (if it’s mentioned at all) is that Republican voters overwhelmingly support this methane emissions rule. Like other humans, they think it makes sense to have clean air, and they understand that means imposing some requirements on the oil & gas industry to cut pollution.

“The rule has widespread support in Colorado and across the West. In Colorado, 83 percent of residents supported the BLM rule, including a majority of support among Republican voters. Among seven Western states with significant amounts of public lands, the rule had overwhelming support among voters, according to a Colorado College poll.”

Nonetheless, only 3 Republicans in the Senate broke rank and voted with their constituents.

If we want Republican politicians to really start acting in the interests of the public on pollution matters, I think we need three basic things:

  1. We need Republican voters to demand this from their political representatives.
  2. We need at least a handful of Republicans with political power to show that they have a moral backbone and vote to protect human health and livability from heartless corporate harm — and that means breaking party rank and going against a tremendous amount of money pouring in from fossil fuel industries.
  3. We need the media to do a much better job highlighting how much it is currently Republican policy to not protect human health and livability from corporate abuse.

Senators John McCain (AZ), Susan Collins (ME), and Lindsey Graham (SC) just made one small but forceful step forward on #2. Let’s hope they and others have the courage to protect human health and a livable climate again in the coming months.

Images by Open SecretsGage Skidmore (some rights reserved), and Gage Skidmore (some rights reserved)

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Zachary Shahan

Zach is tryin' to help society help itself one word at a time. He spends most of his time here on CleanTechnica as its director, chief editor, and CEO. Zach is recognized globally as an electric vehicle, solar energy, and energy storage expert. He has presented about cleantech at conferences in India, the UAE, Ukraine, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, the USA, Canada, and Curaçao. Zach has long-term investments in Tesla [TSLA], NIO [NIO], Xpeng [XPEV], Ford [F], ChargePoint [CHPT], Amazon [AMZN], Piedmont Lithium [PLL], Lithium Americas [LAC], Albemarle Corporation [ALB], Nouveau Monde Graphite [NMGRF], Talon Metals [TLOFF], Arclight Clean Transition Corp [ACTC], and Starbucks [SBUX]. But he does not offer (explicitly or implicitly) investment advice of any sort.

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