(July 15, 2020) The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today ruled that the Trump administration’s reversal of the Methane Waste Prevention Rule was “wholly inadequate” and vacated the action.
The rule reduced the waste of methane and other dangerous pollutants vented, leaked and flared from natural gas operations on public and tribal lands. The Bureau of Land Management, under Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, tried to eliminate key provisions of it in 2018 in flagrant violation of the law. EDF joined the states of California and New Mexico and a broad coalition of health, environmental, tribal citizen and Western groups to challenge in court the rescission of the vital safeguards.
“Since the first day they came into office, the Trump administration has sought and failed to undermine the Methane Waste Prevention Rule at every turn – in Congress, through the regulatory process, and in the courts. Today’s ruling shows their efforts are illegal, and provides for the reinstatement of common sense protections that are in the best interest of the American public,” said EDF senior attorney Rosalie Winn.
Venting, flaring, and leaking of natural gas releases methane, which is a potent greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change, and other hazardous air pollutants like benzene, which causes serious health problems, into our air. It also wastes money; more than $2.5 billion in natural gas has been lost from taxpayer-owned lands through intentional releases and flaring since 2013.
The Methane Waste Prevention Rule was adopted in 2016. It required companies operating on public and tribal lands to carry out common sense policies, using proven and widely-available technologies, to reduce the waste of natural gas.
In 2018, the Trump administration eliminated all measures of the Methane Waste Prevention Rule that would have resulted in natural gas savings, even though BLM’s own analysis found that rolling back the rule would cost Americans more than one billion dollars.
Today the court vacated the rollback, calling the rulemaking process behind it “wholly inadequate” (Decision, page 1) and saying:
“BLM’s backwards approach to rulemaking is not acceptable. It cannot propose a rule based on factual conclusion, provide no evidence for the same, and then, when confronted with the glaring inadequacy, attempt to backfill the record without public comment. … in its zeal, BLMsimply engineered a process to ensure a preordained conclusion.” (Decision, pages 27 and 55)The judge’s decision will go into effect in 90 days.
“This is a victory for communities in New Mexico and across the West. The cost of methane waste and pollution from our public lands is far too high. It robs taxpayers of tens of millions of dollars in revenue for our schools every year, threatens our climate, and makes air pollution worse,” said Don Schreiber, owner of Devil’s Spring Ranch in Rio Arriba County, New Mexico. Schreiber is an EDF member and declarant in the litigation. There is federal oil and gas development on the land that he ranches.
The Methane Waste Prevention Rule has wide support from key stakeholders including local elected officials, business groups, methane mitigation companies, Latino organizations, agricultural groups, sportsmen groups, veterans, public health experts, clean air advocacy organizations and taxpayer organizations.
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