U.S. District Court Strikes Down Interior Secretary’s Suspension of Common Sense Protections to Reduce Waste of Natural Gas

Court Orders BLM to “Immediately Reinstate” Waste Prevention Standard “In Its Entirety”

October 4, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(San Francisco – October 4, 2017) A U.S. District Court judge ruled today that Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s abrupt suspension of protections that reduce the waste of natural gas on public and tribal lands was “arbitrary and capricious and in violation” of the law.

Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to immediately reinstate its Waste Prevention Standard, writing:

“The Court hereby VACATES the Postponement Notice and ORDERS Defendants to immediately reinstate the Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule in its entirety.” (Court Judgement

“The court made it clear today that Secretary Zinke’s decision to suspend the Waste Prevention Standard without any opportunity for public input and without even considering the benefits to the public from the standard was a violation of the law,” said EDF Lead Attorney Peter Zalzal. “Today’s court decision reinstating the standard will ensure that the oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands will take common sense steps to prevent the waste of natural gas, and will secure royalty money that rural communities can use for their schools and other infrastructure.”

The court heard arguments in this case on September 25. Lawyers representing the Attorneys General of California and New Mexico, and EDF and other conservation and tribal citizen groups, had argued that Zinke’s suspension of the standard should be invalidated. 

BLM adopted the Waste Prevention Standard 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 over several years – including eight public hearings across the country and hundreds of thousands of comments submitted. 

The measures in the Waste Prevention Standard require companies operating on public and tribal lands to deploy common sense technologies and best practices to capture natural gas. 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 Standard, 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 Standard came after a January 2017 court decision, in a Wyoming federal district court, that rejected industry efforts to block the safeguards. 

In May of 2017, Congress likewise rejected efforts to repeal the Waste Prevention Standard using the Congressional Review Act. Then just this morning, Secretary Zinke launched another attempt to delay the standard – this time proposing to postpone it until 2019.

73 percent of voters nationwide support BLM’s Waste Prevention Standard, 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 its motion in the case.

You can read the court’s full order here. You can find more information – including all legal documents – on EDF’s website.

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