U.S. District Court Rejects Trump Administration Attack on BLM Waste Prevention Rule
Late yesterday, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California rejected the Trump administration’s attempt to suspend for one year the Bureau of Land Management’s Waste Prevention Rule. As a result, the Waste Prevention Rule is back in effect pending a final ruling from the court. Effective immediately, oil and gas companies must comply with the Rule’s requirements to prevent waste of publicly-owned natural gas and reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions.
“The court’s ruling is a tremendous victory for taxpayers, public health, and the planet,” said Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing tribal and conservation citizen groups. “The court made it clear that the Trump administration is not above the law—Interior Secretary Zinke cannot yank away a commonsense rule that was the product of years of careful deliberation simply to appease his friends in the oil and gas industry.”
The court found that a coalition of conservation and tribal citizen groups, along with the states of California and New Mexico, were likely to succeed on the merits of their claims because BLM failed to provide a reasoned basis for changing course and suspending the Rule.
“[BLM] must provide at least some basis—indeed, a ‘detailed justification’—to explain why it is changing course after its three years of study and deliberation resulting in the Waste Prevention Rule. New facts or evidence coming to light, considerations that BLM left out in its previous analysis, or some other concrete basis supported in the record—these are the types of ‘good reasons’ that the law seeks. Instead, it appears that BLM is simply ‘casually ignoring’ all of its previous findings and arbitrarily changing course.”
The Court also recognized the harm that the conservation and tribal citizen groups would suffer as a result of the suspension.
“BLM estimates that the Suspension Rule will result in emissions of 175,000 additional tons of methane, 250,000 additional tons of volatile organic compounds, and 1,860 additional tons of hazardous air pollutants over the course of the year . . . [T]he additional emissions will cause irreparable public health and environmental harm to Plaintiffs’ members who live and work on or near public and tribal lands with oil and gas development.”
This is the second time that this court has struck down Secretary Zinke’s rushed attempts to dismantle the Waste Prevention Rule. But the same day the court issued the preliminary injunction, Secretary Zinke proposed his third attempt, this time proposing a rule that would do away with the Waste Prevention Rule’s protections for good. Public comment on this proposal is due by April 23, 2018.
The Waste Prevention Rule, which became effective on Jan. 17, 2017, is the first update to BLM’s standards to reduce waste from oil and gas development on public and tribal lands in more than 35 years. It requires drillers to use proven, low-cost technologies to capture publicly-owned natural gas that otherwise would be flared, vented, or leaked into the air.
Interior Department data show that companies wasted an estimated 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas on public and tribal lands through venting, flaring and leaks between 2009 and 2015. It was enough to serve 6.2 million homes for a year. The primary component of that natural gas is methane—a greenhouse gas 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Other pollutants that are leaked and vented contribute to smog formation, causing asthma attacks and other respiratory problems. And some pollutants, like benzene, are known carcinogens.
Earthjustice is representing the Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, and Western Organization of Resource Councils.
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