EDF, Conservation Groups, Tribal Citizen Groups File Lawsuit and Ask Court to Block Zinke from Unlawfully Suspending Waste Prevention Rule

December 19, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org
(Washington, D.C. – December 19, 2017) EDF and a coalition of conservation and tribal citizen groups filed a lawsuit and a motion for preliminary injunction asking a U.S. District Court to stop the Trump Administration’s latest attempt to delay a suite of protections that prevent the waste of a valuable public resource.

Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is trying to delay the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Waste Prevention Rule until January of 2019 – an action that would have immediate and irreparable adverse impacts on tribes, local communities, ranchers and families across the West. Zinke has provided no meaningful opportunity for public input or reasoned explanation for the attempt to delay the rule. The rule requires oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands to take common-sense measures to reduce preventable leaks and flaring of methane, the primary component of natural gas.

EDF and its allies filed a motion for preliminary injunction with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California today seeking to block Zinke’s latest unlawful attempt to remove these protections:

“The consequences of Secretary Zinke’s unlawful action are immediate and profound. His action—removing protections that would otherwise be achieved in just a few weeks—will enable tens of thousands of oil and gas wells on federal and tribal lands to continue wasting natural gas, allowing hundreds of thousands of tons of harmful air pollutants to be emitted and squandering public and tribal resources. Plaintiffs request that this Court preliminarily enjoin this harmful action, and reinstate the January 17, 2018 deadline for complying with BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule.” (Motion, pages 1 and 2)

The Trump Administration has tried before to suspend the Waste Prevention Rule. Those efforts were rejected by both the courts and Congress.

The rule in question will stop the waste of American taxpayer-owned natural gas from avoidable leaks, flaring and intentional releases of methane. It will also reduce emissions of other damaging air pollutants, including smog-forming volatile organic compounds and benzene, which causes cancer.

$330 million of taxpayer-owned natural gas is wasted each year, and Secretary Zinke’s delay – by BLM’s own analysis – would allow nine billion cubic feet of additional wasted gas over the course of the next year. That is enough natural gas to meet the heating and cooking needs of over 100,000 homes for a year.

The Attorneys General of California and New Mexico also filed a legal challenge over Zinke’s attempted delay.

Along with its motion for preliminary injunction, EDF filed a number of declarations with the court from a broad coalition of Western government officials, landowners, and tribal organizations. The declarations underscore the immediate and damaging impacts of Zinke’s action to delay the Waste Prevention Rule.

In their declaration, Aztec, New Mexico City Commissioner Katee McClure and La Plata County, Colorado Commissioner Gwen Lachelt say:

“The Waste Minimization Rule is an important step forward to ensure operators on federal and tribal lands are deploying commonsense measures to capture additional gas. The Rule benefits our communities by providing additional royalties that we can use to fund key priorities—including infrastructure, roads, and education—while also helping to clean up the air in our parts of Colorado and New Mexico, which has health benefits for our citizens. If BLM’s suspension of key provisions of the Waste Prevention Rule takes effect, our communities will be harmed by the loss of royalties and degradation of air quality caused by the suspension.” (Declaration of Commissioners McClure and Lachelt, page 7)

EDF member Don Schreiber, a New Mexican rancher with extensive BLM-managed oil and gas development near his home, filed a declaration describing the impacts of venting, flaring, and leaking from BLM wells on his ranch, which would continue unabated under Secretary Zinke’s suspension of the Waste Prevention Rule:

“As I ride, walk and drive around [my] ranch, I can often see vapors escaping from leaking wells distorting the air and creating shadows on the ground. I have had horses spook violently under me when they were startled by the roar of a nearby well suddenly venting, which can sound like a jet engine…. Although [my wife and I] had hoped the Ranch would be a place we would share with our grandkids, the oil and gas operations on our land limit our ability to enjoy it with them. We worry about their exposure to air pollutants…. Protecting our grandchildren from the negative health effects of oil and gas emissions is a constant concern when they come to visit us.” (Declaration of Don Schreiber, pages 4 and 5)

The Aneth, Counselor, Ojo Encino, and Red Mesa Navajo Chapter Houses also filed declarations today, saying:

“Methane waste is a serious problem for tribes, robbing tribal governments of millions of dollars and polluting the air we breathe.” (Navajo Chapter House declarations, page 2)

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, Montana Environmental Information Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Wilderness Workshop, Wildearth Guardians, and Wyoming Outdoor Council joined EDF in filing today’s complaint and motion for a preliminary injunction.

You can find more information – including all legal documents – on EDF’s website.

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