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Heinrich Delivers Senate Floor Speech Ahead Of Methane CRA Vote

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, delivered remarks on the Senate Floor ahead of the vote on the Congressional Review Act resolution overturning the Trump administration’s reversal of the Obama administration’s rule to reduce methane emissions. The Senate will consider the resolution later this afternoon.

VIDEO: Heinrich Delivers Senate Floor Speech Ahead Of Methane CRA Vote

On March 25, 2021, Senator Heinrich and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), and U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Ed Markey (D-Mass.) led their colleagues in the U.S. Senate to introduce S.J. Res. 14, a resolution that disapproves the Methane Rescission Rule, as provided by the Congressional Review Act.

The disapproval resolution nullifies the Trump administration’s 2020 Methane Rescission Rule and reinstates EPA standards for methane emissions from the oil and gas industry and the regulation of air pollution from transmission and storage facilities. U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) introduced a companion resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Senator Heinrich’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below.

Mr. President,

I am proud to join with the Majority Leader and with my colleagues from Maine and Massachusetts to lead this effort to restore responsible methane emission standards at the EPA.

We can take commonsense action right now to slow climate change and simultaneously reduce the waste of a valuable energy resource. Methane is the primary constituent in natural gas.

It is an incredibly potent driver of the greenhouse effect. In the short term, methane has over 80 times the global warming potency as CO2 emissions.

It is estimated that around a quarter of the human-caused global warming that has occurred since the 1850s can be attributed to methane emissions.

In the United States, the lion’s share of these human-caused methane emissions are from the oil and gas industry.

That’s due in part to outdated or even faulty equipment and pipes that leak methane into the air.

Many oil and gas operators also engage in a practice known as flaring—where operators ignite and burn off excess gas—and venting—where un-combusted gas is released directly into the air.

Beyond the obvious consequences for climate change, these types of methane emissions waste incredibly valuable energy resources.

Fugitive methane also harms public health by polluting the air we breathe.

When methane leaks from oil and gas wells, harmful carcinogens like benzene and other volatile organic compounds also leak into the air alongside it.

That means more children suffering from asthma attacks and more seniors experiencing trouble breathing.

Methane pollution is real and present in many states. And it is a real problem in my state of New Mexico.

We saw clear evidence of this over the Four Corners region in northwestern New Mexico and southwestern Colorado, when a giant cloud of methane about the size of Delaware became so large by the mid-2000s that it could be clearly seen in NASA satellite images.

You can see a map here that visualizes the satellite data from researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Caltech, and the University of Michigan.

After the discovery of the Four Corner’s hotspot, these researchers determined that the main contributors were not natural, but rather leaks from natural gas wells in the San Juan Basin.

In recent years, researchers have detected increasing levels of dangerous methane pollution over southeastern New Mexico’s Permian Basin, where oil and gas operations have been booming for the past decade.

It’s clear that this oil and gas producing region has joined the San Juan Basin as another major contributor to our methane emissions challenge.

Late last year, the EPA and the New Mexico Environment Department conducted helicopter flights over both the San Juan and Permian Basins.

They used forward-looking infrared technology that can detect emissions from oil and gas operations that would normally be invisible to the naked eye.

For an example of what this technology can help us see at the individual oil and gas operation level, take a look at this side-by-side image from Earthworks.

The infrared view is on the left.

What you would see with your naked eye on the right. That entire plume is invisible to the naked eye.

I would suggest that if we could see all the methane pollution with our own eyes, we would have solved this problem long ago.

While you might not see it with your own eyes, there is an alarming amount of methane leaking out into the air we breathe and heating up our atmosphere.

The overflights that were conducted by the New Mexico Environment Department found that methane leak rates over New Mexico’s Permian Basin in 2020 had increased 250 percent over 2019 levels.

Simply unacceptable.

Nationally, the Environmental Defense Fund has found that while oil and gas production has not yet rebounded from a crash brought on by the pandemic, methane emissions are already soaring back to pre-pandemic levels.

That is completely unacceptable when companies have the knowledge, have the technology, and have the workforce to fix these leaks and stop the wasteful practices of venting and flaring.

When we set clear rules and emissions standards, most oil and gas operators are on board with updating their equipment and practices to minimize methane leaks and bring the natural gas they produce to market.

We saw this bear out in practice in New Mexico over these past two years as our state’s Oil Conservation Commission convened conservation and public health advocates and local oil and gas producers to establish state-level methane emissions rules.

New Mexico’s new rules govern not just oil and gas production sites, but also pipelines and storage sites that often leak methane into the atmosphere.

Under our new state rules, oil and gas operators have the flexibility to choose the best technologies to meet the target of capturing 98 percent of their natural gas by 2026.

A spokesperson for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association recently said that the group supports this goal and the newly finalized rules, which promote “safe, responsible production of oil and gas.”

New Mexico has now joined other western states such as Colorado, North Dakota, and Wyoming that have already adopted strong state-level methane emissions rules.

Until just recently, we also had strong federal methane rules in place at the EPA.

Unfortunately, these rules became one more target of the Trump administration’s reckless rollbacks of protections of our clean air and clean water in this country.

Late last year, President Trump dismantled an EPA rule that required oil and gas producers to monitor for methane leaks at their wells, at their compressor stations, and at their other operations.

This rule is a disaster for our climate and for public health.

It was even rejected by the industry it was purporting to help.

Many leading American oil and natural gas producers simply panned President Trump’s rollback of commonsense methane standards.

As just one example, Gretchen Watkins, Shell's president in the United States, called the Trump administration’s rollback “frustrating and disappointing,” and pledged to voluntarily continue reducing the company’s methane emissions.

Why would they do that?

Because it makes business sense and because the rollback was frankly nonsensical.

That’s because the more methane that oil and gas companies can capture rather than leak out into the atmosphere, the more natural gas they can sell for a profit.

And repairing leaks and installing new leak detection technologies will create many good-paying jobs. That is the epitome of a “win-win” situation.

Without clear federal rules in place at the EPA, however, industry-led “voluntary” emissions reduction efforts simply won’t go far enough. We need clear standards that create clear requirements for reducing waste and harmful pollution.

And it’s not just me saying this.

Since we announced this effort to use the Congressional Review Act, more and more leading companies in the oil and gas sector have come forward to say that they would welcome reinstating the EPA’s methane emissions standards.

That includes the EQT Corporation, one of the nation’s leading natural gas producers, which operates in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Ohio.

In a statement, EQT’s President and CEO Toby Rice called the reinstatement of a uniform federal methane standards “sound federal policies” and committed to “producing our natural gas in accordance with high environmental and social standards.”

The major oil company TOTAL USA says: “We welcome direct federal regulation of methane emissions and support resolution via the Congressional Review Act.”

And Shell US tweeted: “Sound policy surrounding natural gas is critical to its role in the energy transition. We need to restore the direct federal regulation of methane emissions—and we urge Congress to approve the methane resolution under the Congressional Review Act.”

Not my words.

These are the words of industry leaders who welcome us setting clear standards on methane emissions.

We are voting to reinstate the commonsense methane requirements for the oil and gas industry’s production and processing segments and the methane and volatile organic compound requirements for oil and gas transmission and storage facilities.

With this vote, Congress will once again affirm that the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to take action to protect the air that Americans breathe from dangerous and harmful pollutants like methane.

Just like we did back in 2017, when the Senate came together on a bipartisan basis to uphold similar rules that govern the oil and gas production on federal Bureau of Land Management lands.

In that vote, our former colleague, Senator John McCain, and our colleagues, Senators Susan Collins and Lindsey Graham, joined with Senate Democrats in retaining the BLM’s Methane Rule that promoted responsible development of natural gas resources on our public lands.

I would hope that all of us—and I mean all of us—can come together on a bipartisan basis once again to restore and strengthen responsible federal methane standards for oil and gas operators.

I’m so pleased that Senator Collins has already joined us as a cosponsor on this resolution.

And finally I would like to point out that these rules are important not just to the health of oil and gas producing states like New Mexico, or Wyoming, or Colorado.

That’s because these rules will ensure the safety of not just oil and gas production sites, but also of gas pipelines and the storage sites.

These upstream segments of the oil and gas industry are in communities all across every single part of our country.

Just like we all know we need to remove poisonous lead from our drinking water pipes, we need to be sure that the natural gas lines that run into our homes and into our businesses are not leaking out harmful methane pollution in the very spaces where we all breathe.

As we transition toward a 100 percent clean energy future, we must do all we can to mitigate the harmful pollution caused by our current use of fossil fuels.

That’s exactly what these rules are designed to do.

As President Biden demonstrated just last week when he convened leaders from around the globe, Americans are ready for us to move past former President Trump’s backward and reckless vision on climate.

Restoring and strengthening methane standards at the EPA will be one of the most powerful steps that we can all take here in the Senate today to confront the existential threat posed by greenhouse gas pollution and a warming planet.

And it will make the air over all of our communities cleaner and healthier and easier to breathe.

For all of these reasons, I encourage not just a few, but all of our colleagues to join us in voting for this bipartisan resolution to restore commonsense and responsible federal standards on the leakage and waste of methane.