Returning to a Sensible Approach to Methane by Reversing a Trump Rule
In Colorado, we’ve come out of one of the worst wildfire seasons we’ve ever seen. In fact, you can’t really call it a season, I think, when the fires are still going on when the snow falls. But that’s what happened this year, incredibly. Three of the largest fires in our history all happened in the same year.
And, these fires displaced thousands of people in my state. They obscured the views of the mountains for weeks at a time. They forced families to pack their entire lives into duffel bags while their homes went up in flames. They shut down major highways for weeks and paralyzed local economies and blanketed our communities with smoke.
And if you ask anyone in Colorado why this is happening, they’ll tell you it’s because our state is becoming hotter and drier each year. If you ask farmers and ranchers in Colorado — and a lot of them are Republicans — they’ll tell you they’re facing drought that’s longer and more intense than their parents or grandparents ever had to deal with.
Our mountain towns will tell you that they’re struggling with ski seasons that are growing shorter each year, and our water officials will tell you they’re planning for a future with a lot less water to go around — and there wasn’t enough water to begin with.
And the reason for all of that is climate change.
And it’s why, in Colorado — a purple state, a swing state in the middle of the country — there is absolutely a consensus that we have a moral responsibility to deal with climate change as a threat to our economy, to our environment, and to our way of life.
That responsibility extends to the United States Senate. But for most of the time I’ve been here, we’ve treated climate change like it was gonna somehow solve itself. Or in some cases, that it didn’t even really exist.
And nothing could be further from the truth.
This is a problem for all 50 states and every American. It’s a problem for humanity. And we can’t deal with it in an enduring way unless the hundred people in this body take action. Until the hundred people here are willing to lead — on a challenge that is existential, yes, and also global, yes, and that’s also crying out for the leadership of the Senate. There’s nobody else to ride to the rescue. We have to do this.
And we can start tomorrow by voting to reverse — and I hope it will be a big, bipartisan vote tomorrow — by voting to reverse the last administration’s terrible, counterproductive, self-destructive policy on methane pollution.
Methane is not something people ever think about, and it’s one of the most powerful greenhouse gases behind climate change. It can be over 80 times more potent, Mr. President, than carbon dioxide, and it’s responsible for a quarter of all the warming that the planet has seen since the Industrial Revolution.
And today, one of the biggest sources of methane pollution is the oil and gas industry — in my state and the great state of Texas where the senior senator is from, and all across the country — where methane leaks into the atmosphere from old pipes, broken vents, and outdated practices like burning excess gas.
Methane pollution is terrible for the environment because it accelerates climate change.
It’s terrible for our health because it puts toxins in the air we breathe — especially for the nearly 10 million Americans who live near oil and gas wells, or go to school near oil and gas wells.
It’s also terrible for industry, because it makes their fuel much dirtier, and it cuts into their bottom line.
And that’s why years ago, I think it was 2014, in Colorado, — under the leadership of then-Governor Hickenlooper, now Senator Hickenlooper — we adopted, as a state, the country’s first-ever rules to limit methane pollution for oil and gas facilities. Governor Hickenlooper worked by bringing environmentalists and industry leaders together to craft a policy that reflected the consensus in my state around climate change and our economy.
And our approach worked so well that the EPA and the Bureau of Land Management drew on it for methane rules at the federal level.
When the last administration went after the rules at BLM, our late friend Senator John McCain led a bipartisan majority in this body to keep them in place.
At the time, the Trump administration claimed that the federal methane rules destroyed energy production and killed jobs.
That was never true, to be polite about it. In Colorado, our natural gas production has grown. Our oil production has nearly doubled. Our innovation and jobs have increased. Today, there are 52 different businesses in my state hiring people to repair pipes, to track pollution, and to develop new technologies to reduce pollution. This has strengthened our economy.
Colorado’s approach worked so well that we’ve gone back and strengthened — strengthened — our methane rules another three times — in 2017, in 2019, and 2020 — each time with support from both environmental groups and industry.
But instead of learning from our example, the Trump administration went ahead with its plans to dismantle methane rules at the federal level. And it did that over the objections of leading oil and gas operators in my state and across the country.
The result was a self-inflicted wound on our economy, our environment, and it compromised our leadership in the world.
And now I hope we’ll pick the pieces up in a bipartisan way, because, here’s what I think, Mr. President. We are not going to solve climate change until we have an American climate policy, just like we once had something we called U.S. foreign policy, where every president who was elected — whether they were a Republican or a Democrat — they roughly knew what their job was with respect to the Soviet Union, with respect to the trans-Atlantic alliance.
There were differences, of course, and we made lots of mistakes with that organizing principle, but it was an important organizing principle, that thing we called American foreign policy. And we’re going to need something called American climate policy.
We didn’t try to win the Cold War two years at a time, and we can’t accept a politics in here where I put in my ideas for health care and two years later they get ripped out and put in somebody’s ideas for infrastructure, and two years later they get ripped out. We can’t tolerate it for those things, for education or taxes. People need predictability. They don’t want to succumb to the political antics of Washington, DC, and this floor.
But when it comes to climate change, that’s really true. Because we can’t fix it two years at a time. I often hear people say we have to act urgently on climate change — we do, it’s true — but we also need a solution that’s durable — one that will last changes in the majorities in the Congress and changes in who’s in the White House, so we can actually pass off that durable solution to our kids and grandkids who can then pick up the baton.
So let me say this, you cannot accept, if you want to fix climate change, the broken politics that we have here. We can’t accept the rubble that we sometimes have here. We have to do better than that, and I think we can, and I think by starting with this methane rule and hopefully doing it in a bipartisan way, it’ll be a great beginning.
Coming together on methane pollution is the perfect place to start. In Colorado, 91 percent of people support limits on methane pollution. It has the support of environmental groups and industry, as I said earlier — including America’s largest natural gas producers. It has a record of bipartisan support in this body.
And it has the potential to create thousands of jobs — high-paying jobs — mostly in rural areas, where people are reasonably concerned about what this energy transition is going to mean for them. Let’s pay people to capture methane, to make the industry viable, to make the product less harmful, and to create high-paying jobs in rural areas in America that need them.
I know I don’t have all the answers for how to build a durable climate policy in America, but I know that a sensible approach to methane has to be part of the solution. And that approach has to address not only new oil and gas facilities, but existing ones like we’ve done in Colorado.
And that’s what this resolution will do. It will restore EPA’s obligation to regulate all sources of methane emissions, including existing oil and gas operations, where there are hundreds of thousands of older wells that are responsible for 75% of methane emissions from the industry.
It will help us protect the environment and create jobs.
And it will show the world that America can come together — that this Senate can come together — in a bipartisan way to deal with climate change.
Because when I think about it, Mr. President, I don’t want any of us to come back to this floor 10 years from now, or 20 years from now, and describe how we’ve just gone through the worst wildfire season, ever — or the worst hurricane season, ever — more likely in your state than in my state — or the worst drought in our history.
I want them to come back and celebrate how America led the world to overcome the climate threat.
I want them to praise the era of innovation and job creation unleashed across the country.
And I want them to point out what we did — in this Congress, with this vote — to put America on a path to protect our planet, grow our economy, and fulfill our responsibility to our kids and our grandkids.
So I urge my colleagues, every single one of them, to cast a vote for this important methane policy to set us on the bipartisan course we need to create if we’re going to have durable climate change policy in this country, and if America is going to lead the world.
With that, Mr. President, I yield the floor.