Heitkamp ‘No’ Vote Dooms Repeal Of Obama Administration Regulation Targeting Oil And Gas Production
North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp’s (D) vote this morning against repealing an Obama administration rule targeting oil and natural gas production on federal lands turned out to be the deciding vote on the issue. The Senate’s 51-49 vote today came after Western business groups, elected officials, tribes and local leaders spent months urging the repeal of the rule.
Heitkamp remained undecided up until the vote and has not spoken publicly about her decision at press time. Her colleague in the House, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.), however, issued a statement expressing his disappointment with the outcome.
“Let’s be clear, a vote against this rule is a vote against the workers and families in Western North Dakota,” Cramer said in a statement. “It’s a huge missed opportunity to protect our energy jobs in Western North Dakota and across America, and any senator who voted against this CRA [Congressional Review Act resolution] should be ashamed of themselves.” “I hope we see stronger support from our senators for America’s energy industry in the future,” Cramer said.
The “venting and flaring” rule was issued by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) two months before president Barack Obama left office, and a measure to repeal the rule using the CRA passed the House in February. This morning, Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.), Susan Collins (Maine) and John McCain (Ariz.) voted against the measure along with all members of the Democratic caucus.
The Washington Post described the outcome as unexpected, and Reuters reported that even environmental groups were “taken [by] surprise by the vote” in its original story, which has since been edited. The Hill noted that the defeat represented a “victory for environmentalists, who in recent weeks put up a comprehensive fight to sway vulnerable and moderate senators against repeal.”
Defending the methane rule had been a priority for environmental groups, which had launched new coalitions and six-figure advertising campaigns to pressure senators to vote against repealing the rule. The Democrats that they targeted voted accordingly.
“We are extremely disappointed in Senator Heitkamp’s decision today to vote against the repeal of this rule,” North Dakota Petroleum Council President Ron Ness said in a statement today. “Hundreds of energy employees and numerous businesses, chambers of commerce and trade associations wrote to express concern for the rule. Despite this, Senator Heitkamp has chosen to stand with the environmental activists and the Democratic party in Washington rather than the oil and gas workers and people of North Dakota.”
In addition to business groups, state and local officials and tribes across the West have also criticized the rule, arguing that it adds another layer of federal regulation to existing rules that are already working. They were also concerned that the rule would prevent new oil and natural gas wells from being drilled and forced others to close prematurely, limiting energy production and tax revenues.
“We are hoping Senator Heitkamp, as a conservative Democrat and one who understands the energy industry, will vote with us,” Andy Peterson, president of the Greater North Dakota Chamber, told Western Wire in February.
“The BLM Methane Rule is another midnight regulation put out by the Obama Administration,” Sen. John Hoeven (R-N.D.) said on the Senate floor yesterday, urging his colleagues to the repeal of the rule. “With methane emissions already being regulated and reduced by the states and industry, it’s tough to figure out what this new BLM regulation is accomplishing.”
In March, Hoeven told Western Wire that the rule was “duplicative, unworkable and will hamper job creation and economic growth in North Dakota.” “We need to pass this CRA and get to work on initiatives that will actually help our nation to produce more energy with good environmental stewardship,” he said in a statement. Those initiatives include “encouraging investment in natural gas gathering systems on public lands to help reduce flaring,” he said.
Following the vote this morning, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), the lead sponsor of the repeal measure, urged Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to withdraw the measure.
“If left in place, this regulation will only discourage energy production, job creation, and economic opportunity across the West,” Barrasso wrote in a statement. “The state of Wyoming and other leading energy producing states already regulate methane emissions. We don’t need this duplicative rule.”
In a statement released following the vote today, the Interior Department said it will “suspend, revise or rescind” the rule “given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation.”
“The rule is expected to have real and harmful impacts on onshore energy development and could impact state and local jobs and revenue,” Kate MacGregor, Acting Assistant Secretary of the Interior for Land and Minerals, said. “Small independent oil and gas producers in states like North Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, which account for a substantial portion of our nation’s energy wealth, could be hit the hardest.”
“The vote today in the Senate doesn’t impact the Administration’s commitment to spurring investment in responsible energy development and ensuring smart regulatory protections,” she said.