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Court Overturns Trump Administration’s Delay of a Methane Waste Rule

Gas flare at Evanson Place - Arnegard North Dakota

There is good news for environmentalists. Thanks to a court decision an Obama-era rule to prevent methane waste by the oil and gas industry now goes into effect.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that the Trump administration acted unlawfully when it suspended rules enacted by the Obama administration the oil and gas industry to restrict methane emissions.

When the Interior Department delayed key provisions of a methane rule, it misused a provision of the Administrative Procedure Act. The decision by the District Court means that the methane rule will now take effect. A coalition of a coalition of seventeen conservation and tribal citizens groups sued along with California and New Mexico over the delay.

Standing up to the onslaught

“The court victory is a huge victory. This is now the third strike against attempts to undo this rule, Jon Goldstein, a senior policy adviser for the Environmental Defense Fund, said to the Casper Star Tribune.

“What this is showing us is how wrongheaded those attempts are.”

The court’s decision came on the same day that the Bureau of Land Management announced it suspended the methane rule until January 17, 2019. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ordered the BLM to review the rule.

The same tired, false narrative

The reason for the suspension, as stated in a press release, is to “reduce the burden of federal regulations that hinder economic growth and energy development.” Or as acting BLM Director Michael D. Nedd said, “We intend to evaluate regulations to determine if they unnecessarily encumber energy production, constrain economic growth, or prevent job creation.”

Venting potential energy source as waste gas

The methane rule prevents oil and gas companies from flaring, leaking or venting methane gas rather than use it for energy. Taxpayers would lose up to $800 million in royalty revenue over the next decade with the rule suspended, according to a report by the Western Values Project.

Methane is often found while drilling for oil. Under the waste prevention rule, oil and gas companies would be required to capture methane, use it for energy and pay royalties on it. Back in May, the Senate voted against a resolution to suspend the rule.

Methane is emitted daily across the oil and gas supply chain in the U.S. Every year, over eight metric tons a year is emitted of the greenhouse gas with a warming potential 23 times that of carbon dioxide. That amount of methane has the same climate impact over a 20-year period as 200 coal-fired power plants. It is also enough natural gas to heat more than five million homes.

No surprise from BLM

The BLM’s announced suspension of the comes as no surprise given the Trump administration’s anti-environmental stance. As Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project, said in a statement:

“It’s hard to remember the last time Interior made a major announcement to protect public lands, but these giveaways for oil and gas companies are starting to feel routine.”

Indeed, the giveaways to the oil and gas industry are routine for the Trump administration. And lawsuits by states and conservation groups against those giveaways are starting to be routine.


Image credit: Tim Evanson, courtesy Flickr

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