President Trump suffered a rare setback last week in his relentless drive to dismantle environmental protections when a small handful of Senate Republicans joined Democrats to block a regulation to control the release of methane from oil and gas wells on public lands. Methane contributes to climate change and public health problems.
Senate Republicans Susan Collins of Maine, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina broke with their party and the White House to torpedo the measure, 51 to 49.
Now another mini-Republican rebellion in the House is challenging a Trump administration effort to reopen the Atlantic or Pacific oceans for oil and gas drilling in tandem with the Interior Department’s review of federal off-shore drilling policies, The Hill reported on Monday.
More than 100 House members, including about a half dozen Republicans, wrote a letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, urging him to adhere to a new policy implemented last year to keep the two oceans off limits to any oil and gas lease sales. Trump signed an executive order April 28 that directed the Interior Department to review off-shore drilling policy with an eye toward long-term reauthorization of off-shore drilling.
Those members said in the letter released today that drilling in the Atlantic or the Pacific would endanger local economies that are dependent on fishing and tourism. Opposition to new leasing in the Pacific Ocean dates back to the 1969 Santa Barbara oil drilling blowout, which killed thousands of birds and marine mammals and blackened the Southern California beaches.
“We do not believe that new oil and gas exploration or production activity in the Atlantic and Pacific Outer Continental Shelf (OCS) is compatible with the sustainable coastal economies on which so many of our constituents and communities depend,” the members wrote. “As you conduct a review of our nation's existing oil and gas leases, we again strongly urge you to reject proposals to open the Atlantic and Pacific OCS Regions to new offshore drilling and exploration."
For the second time in less than a weekend, a small band of Republicans pushed back against a Trump initiative that has important long-term implications for the environment. As Trump struggles to regain his momentum in the wake of the uproar over h is firing of FBI director James Comey, congressional Republicans appear less and less reluctant to challenge the highly unpopular new president.
It will be interesting to see whether this pushback on environmental issues will become a trend, or turn out to be an aberration. Another interesting test could come along this spring when Trump must decide whether to withdraw the U.S. from the landmark Paris climate accord. Trump, a climate change skeptic, has threatened to pull out of the agreement aimed at slowing the rate of growth of greenhouse gas emissions.
However, he delayed the decision last week amid disagreements within the White House about the nature of the pact and the government’s legal obligations.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, his son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are all arguing in favor of preserving the pact, while other advisers including Stephen Bannon are pressing to withdraw.
It’s quite possible that before the decision is finally reached that other more vocal Republicans on Capitol Hill speak out in favor of the agreement.