WORC groups take the Trump Administration to court over gutting BLM Methane rule

BLM’s Rollback of protections wastes taxpayer-owned resources, endangers public health, and gravely impacts climate change.

Last month, WORC groups, along with a coalition of seventeen conservation and Native organizations, filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s replacement of the BLM Methane Waste Reduction Rule. The suit states that the new, drastically weaker rule violates federal policies.

“We are going to court on behalf of American taxpayers, public health, and the planet,” said Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing tribal and conservation citizen groups. “The Trump administration is not above the law—Interior Secretary Zinke cannot yank away a common-sense rule that was the product of years of careful deliberation simply to appease his friends in the oil and gas industry.”

“The federal government is not living up to its trust responsibility to tribal members of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota who are living every day with toxic air pollution, constant noise and flares lighting up the skies of our homeland,” said Lisa DeVille. “The Trump administration is taking away these important protections without considering the devastating impact to me and my community.”

The Waste Prevention Rule updated nearly 40-year-old standards by implementing cost-effective measures to reduce wasteful venting, flaring, and leaking of publicly owned natural gas from federal and tribal lands. The Administration’s hollow replacement, however, fails to take reasonable precautions to prevent waste and protect the public welfare, illegally relying almost entirely on inadequate or nonexistent state regulations in place of federal standards.

“The federal government is not living up to its trust responsibility to tribal members of the Fort Berthold Reservation in North Dakota who are living every day with toxic air pollution, constant noise and flares lighting up the skies of our homeland,” said Lisa DeVille, president of the Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights. “The Trump administration is taking away these important protections without considering the devastating impact to me and my community.”

methane flaring venting or leakingIn 2016, BLM adopted the Waste Prevention Rule to address rampant waste of public resources. BLM’s own estimates show that between 2009 and 2015 oil and gas companies wasted more than 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas, enough gas to supply over 6.2 million households—or every household in Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, and Wyoming—for a year.

As a result of BLM eliminating those protections, oil and gas companies will now be allowed to vent, leak, or flare $824 million-worth of publicly owned natural gas into the air over the next decade. State, local, and tribal taxpayers will lose millions of dollars of royalty payments—money that they could use to mitigate the health and climate effects of dumping methane into the air.

“Secretary Zinke is rolling back a rule that required greater capture of natural gas and that the industry pay a royalty on gas that is vented to the atmosphere or otherwise wasted,” said Rodger Steen, chair of the Western Organization of Resource Councils’ Oil and Gas Campaign Team. “Requiring royalty payment on wasted gas is one important reason why the 2016 rule is needed, but there are others. As the increasing scarcity of basic resources like clean water and old forests reminds us, we need to use our finite resources wisely and not waste them.”

According to BLM’s own estimates, rescinding the Waste Prevention Rule will result in the yearly emissions of 180,000 tons of methane—a greenhouse gas 87 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. BLM’s action also endangers communities’ health by exposing them to dangerous smog-forming and carcinogenic air pollutants.

The Conservation and Tribal Citizen Groups filed their lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District California, which has already struck down BLM’s two prior attempts to roll back the Waste Prevention Rule. Earthjustice represents Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, Sierra Club, The Wilderness Society, and Western Organization of Resource Councils in the lawsuit.


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