June 20, 2019

Udall, Grijalva Lead 51 Lawmakers in Challenging Trump Roll Back of Methane Waste Prevention Rule

Amicus brief makes case that Interior’s rollback violates federal law by authorizing waste of public oil and gas resources, harming the public interest

Every year, an estimated $330 million of natural gas is wasted by the oil and gas industry on public and Tribal lands

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies,  and U.S. Representative Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.),Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, led a group of 51 lawmakers in filing an amicus brief challenging the Trump Interior Department’s decision to revise and effectively reverse the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention rule. 

A copy of the full amicus brief can be found HERE. For a recording of the press conference call announcing the amicus brief, click HERE. 

“The Trump rollback of the Methane Waste and Prevention Rule was an egregious giveaway to irresponsible polluters, greenlighting the waste of publicly-owned resources and authorizing damage to the environment. In New Mexico, we lose nearly $43 million each year in royalty revenues from methane waste on public lands, money that should be going to fund schools and infrastructure. BLM’s own analysis found that scrapping the methane waste prevention rule would lead to more than $1 billion in wasted natural gas and pollution nationwide, but still the Trump administration is determined to serve the interest of the worst polluters in the industry and trample any efforts to protect taxpayers and public health and combat climate change,” said Udall. “This brief makes it clear that Congress’s intent in enacting the Mineral Leasing Act was not to protect the profitability of industry but to protect the public interest. I applaud states like New Mexico that are stepping up to stop methane waste on their own and will continue to speak up in Congress when laws are outright violated by this administration.” 

“President Trump is gutting key public land and environmental protections and wreaking havoc on communities across the nation,” Chair Grijalva said. “Polluters shouldn’t be allowed to waste valuable public resources or harm our planet and our public health without consequence. I’m proud to co-lead this amicus brief alongside dedicated House and Senate colleagues who have steadfastly advocated strong methane regulations, and I’m confident the plaintiffs in this case will prevail.”

“Despite Congress upholding the BLM methane rule, the Trump Administration sought to undermine the will of Congress, the American people, and the law by illegally suspending this rule,” said U.S. Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). “More methane waste will pollute our air and water – exacerbating climate change and unleashing devastating effects on public health and our environment. Colorado’s commonsense methane standards are bringing cleaner air and a thriving economy to our state. Instead of following in Colorado’s footsteps, the Trump Administration is weakening the very measures that protect our air and curb one of the biggest drivers of climate change. 

“Every year, an estimated $330 million of natural gas is wasted through leaking pipes and methane flares from oil and gas operations on public lands,” said U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.). “Instead of taking common-sense measures that prevent this waste and safeguard taxpayer resources, the administration is allowing oil and gas companies to release 1,860 tons of hazardous air pollutants each year into local communities. This is shameful, irresponsible, and yet another example of overturning common sense environmental protections to do the oil industry’s bidding.”

“The Trump administration’s watered down methane rules fly in the face of logic, science, and responsible decision-making. When oil and gas companies modernize their equipment to reduce leaks, they are able to capture more gas that they can sell, as well as increase worker safety at their wells. Reducing methane leaks means that instead of having a giant methane cloud over the northwest corner of New Mexico and over the Navajo Nation—a major public health hazard—we can put our natural gas resources to beneficial use. When we capture more gas that also means we see more royalties and revenues for states, tribes, and local communities. We need to implement strong rules to reduce methane waste to protect the air we breathe and meet our responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas pollution,” said U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.). 

“If we’re going to be serious about fixing the climate crisis, we have to be serious about curbing the release of methane into the atmosphere,” said U.S. Representative Diana DeGette (D-Colo.), Chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Oversight & Investigations Subcommittee. “We should be capturing and using this extremely valuable resource, not allowing the worst actors in the oil and gas industry to release it into the atmosphere where it’s going to harm future generations.”

“Under the Trump Administration, BLM’s number one priority is avoiding anything that might burden oil and gas companies, when it should be protecting public resources and the public interest and holding companies accountable. This administration may have succeeded in the short-term with their revised rule, but I’m confident the law and the American public are on our side, and that in the end, BLM will be forced to reinstate the 2016 rule that protects taxpayers from the unnecessary waste of a public resource,” said U.S. Representative Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.), Chair of the House Natural Resources Committee’s Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.

“Each year, oil and gas companies emit over 13 million metric tons of methane across the country and much of that waste happens in my home state of New Mexico. This pollution of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is putting our climate at risk and threatening the health of our families who live adjacent to these facilities. With the Permian basin booming and no local standards in place yet, the BLM’s Waste Prevention rule was an important safeguard for communities across the state and country. Senator Udall and Representatives Grijalva, DeGette, and Lowenthal’s brief is a bold step forward and an important part of ensuring that our communities receive the protections they deserve from harmful oil and gas pollution and waste,” said Camilla Feibelman, Director of the Sierra Club Rio Grande Chapter. 

The amicus brief, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenges the Trump administration’s gutting of the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. Under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, the government is required to prevent unnecessary waste of oil and gas resources on federal and Tribal lands. In the brief, the lawmakers argue that Interior’s revised rule violates the Mineral Leasing Act by authorizing practices known to waste tax payer-owned resources and harm the public interest. 

The 2016 methane waste prevention rule was designed to limit leaking, venting, and flaring from natural gas operations on federal and Tribal lands – wasteful practices that unnecessarily release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and other dangerous pollutants into the air and waste hundreds of millions in taxpayer-owned resources every year. The Trump administration, however, gutted this common-sense rule and replaced it with a rule that authorizes wasting public resources and damage to the environment. Every year, an estimated $330 million of natural gas is wasted by the oil and gas industry from operations on public and Tribal lands.

In 2018, the BLM revised the 2016 rule with a rule entitled Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties and Resource Conservation; Rescission or Revision of Certain Requirements. The revised rule removed waste minimization plans, well drilling and completion requirements, pneumatic controller and diaphragm pump requirements, storage vessels requirements, and leak detection and repair requirements from the 2016 rule. The gas-capture requirement was modified to allow BLM to defer to State or Tribal regulations in determining when the flaring of associated gas from oil wells will be royalty-free. Modifications were also made to the downhole well maintenance and liquids unloading requirements and to the measuring and reporting volumes of gas vented and flared.

Udall has long fought to protect and preserve BLM’s methane waste prevention rule. In 2017, Udall led the successful effort in the Senate to defeat an attempt to overturn the rule using the Congressional Review Act.

A copy of the full amicus brief can be found HERE. For a recording of the press conference call announcing the amicus brief, click HERE. 

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