U.S. District Court Hears Arguments for Common Sense Protections to Reduce Waste of Natural Gas

Court Will Decide Whether Interior Secretary Zinke’s Abrupt Suspension of the Protections Was Contrary to Law

September 25, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(San Francisco – September 25, 2017) A U.S. District Court judge heard arguments today that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated that law when he abruptly suspended vital protections that reduce the waste of natural gas on public and tribal lands.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California heard the case today. Lawyers representing the Attorneys General of California and New Mexico, and EDF and other conservation and tribal citizen groups, argued that Zinke’s suspension of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Waste Prevention Rule should be overruled. 

“We believe that Secretary Zinke’s decision to suspend the Waste Prevention Rule without any opportunity for public input was clearly unlawful,” said EDF Lead Attorney Peter Zalzal. “The Waste Prevention Rule ensures that the oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands will take common sense steps to prevent the waste of natural gas, secures royalty money that rural communities can use for their schools and other infrastructure, and reduces the air pollution that harms all Americans.”

BLM adopted the Waste Prevention Rule in response to widespread evidence of extensive waste of natural gas on public and tribal lands — waste that means millions of dollars in lost revenue for taxpayers and an increase in harmful air pollution. The safeguards were finalized in November 2016 after a public process involving extensive stakeholder participation – including eight public hearings across the country and hundreds of thousands of comments submitted –over several years.  

The measures in the Waste Prevention Rule require companies operating on public and tribal lands to deploy common sense technologies and best practices to capture pollution. Many of these common sense measures are already being effectively deployed in states like Colorado and Wyoming.

In June of 2017, however – without any public opportunity for comment and without considering any of the consequences for taxpayers, public health, and climate pollution – Secretary Zinke suspended key aspects of the Waste Prevention Rule, including requirements to reduce flaring, minimize waste from pneumatic controllers, and undertake common sense leak detection and repair practices. 

Secretary Zinke’s decision to suspend key parts of the Waste Prevention Rule came after a January 2017 court decision, in a Wyoming federal district court, that rejected industry efforts to block the Waste Prevention Rule.

In May of 2017, Congress likewise rejected efforts to repeal the Waste Prevention Rule using the Congressional Review Act. 

73 percent of voters nationwide support BLM’s Waste Prevention Rule, which was originally adopted to address the $330 million worth of the public’s natural gas that is wasted each year. 

The Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Wilderness Society, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthjustice, Earthworks, 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 on the motion that the court considered today. 

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

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