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Groups Sue Over Trump Administration Rollback of Protections Against Methane Waste on Public Lands

Safeguards reduce climate emissions and cancer-causing air pollution from oil and gas industry
Hazy air covers an active drilling field in California.

Hazy air covers an active drilling field in California.

Chris Jordan-Bloch / Earthjustice
December 19, 2017
San Francisco, CA —

A coalition of conservation and tribal citizen groups today filed a lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California challenging the Trump Administration’s suspension of the Bureau of Land Management’s Waste Prevention Rule and seeking to have these protections put back in place. The rule requires companies drilling on public and tribal lands to use common-sense, proven measures to reduce natural gas that is leaked, vented or flared.

This is the latest in a series of unsuccessful attempts by the oil and gas industry and the Trump administration to block the rule, which went into effect in January 2017.

Industry trade groups and several states previously tried, and failed, to get a court to prevent the rule from going into effect. In May 2017, the U.S. Senate voted not to consider repeal of the rule in a bipartisan, 51 to 49 vote.  The Trump administration then unilaterally suspended parts of the rule, but that action was struck down by a California court in October.  

Despite this ruling, on December 8, the administration once again attempted to stay compliance for one year while it rewrites the rule.

The rule was designed to update waste regulations that were more than 30 years old and did not reflect the dramatic advances in oil and gas drilling technology or the rapid expansion of drilling operations on public lands in recent years.  The rule saves taxpayers millions of dollars in royalties every year, and reduces harmful cancer-causing and smog-forming pollution. It also reduces pollution from methane, a greenhouse gas 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

The rule implements cost-effective strategies used by leading companies to reduce methane waste and already in place in many states like Colorado and Wyoming.  These strategies include requiring companies to monitor wells for leaks, repair faulty equipment, reduce noisy and wasteful flaring, and capture unnecessary natural gas emissions. 

The rule was the result of years of deliberation and public input, including public hearings in New Mexico, Oklahoma, Colorado and North Dakota.  The federal government received more than 300,000 written comments that were overwhelmingly in support of the rule.

"Rather than moving forward to implement this common-sense rule that prevents waste, saves millions of taxpayer dollars, and protects the air we breathe, the Trump administration is wasting everyone's time with yet another attempt to stop the rule from taking effect, all to appease its friends in the oil and gas industry," Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley said. “The public has made its support for this rule crystal clear, and we will use every legal tool at our disposal to block the Trump administration from rolling back these important protections for our public lands."

“Once again, Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are showing where their priorities lie: pandering to the desires of big polluters above all else, including the health of our communities," said Lena Moffitt, senior director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America Campaign. "BLM’s methane rule would help fight climate change and protect our public lands and communities. Undermining these protections is a slap in the face to the majority of Americans who support them, and to the many people who will breathe polluted air as a result. We will continue to fight to ensure that these common-sense protections remain in place.”

“This is yet another handout to industry at the expense of the American people,” said Meleah Geertsma, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “These common-sense measures prevent unnecessary waste that fuels climate change, creates smog, and can cause cancer—all while saving taxpayers money. Once again, when the oil and gas industry says ‘Jump,’ the Trump administration says ‘How high?’ ”

"Secretary Zinke rushed this attempt to suspend the BLM’s waste prevention rule without giving tribal members a meaningful opportunity to comment,” said Lisa DeVille, president of the Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights (POWER). “We spent years working with BLM to finalize this rule to reduce wasteful gas flares. What this suspension means is more flaring and degraded air quality on Fort Berthold. Secretary Zinke needs to start listening more to the people, rather than the oil and gas industry." 

“The BLM’s abandonment of its waste rule is an affront to all Americans. In less than one year, the industry and its allies have unsuccessfully tried three times to eliminate this rule, and we believe they will lose this newest court battle,” said Bruce Pendery, an attorney with The Wilderness Society. “No matter how many special interests the Trump administration has on its side in its mindless pursuit of energy dominance, it cannot avoid the Interior Department’s legal obligations to protect taxpayers and the planet.”

Earthjustice represents several of the Conservation and Tribal Citizen Groups that filed the lawsuit challenging BLM’s illegal suspension of the Rule:  Sierra Club, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water & Earth Rights, The Wilderness Society, Western Organization of Resource Councils and Natural Resources Defense Council.

Read the legal document.

Contacts

Robin Cooley, Earthjustice, (303) 263-2472   

Kate Kiely, NRDC, (212) 727-4592 

Gabby Brown, Sierra Club, (202) 495-3051 

Bruce Pendery, The Wilderness Society, (435) 760-6217 

Lisa DeVille, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, (701) 421-8020

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