Late in the evening, on February 22, a U.S. District Court in California halted the Interior Department’s one-year suspension of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Methane Waste Prevention Rule. The judge called Interior Secretary Zinke’s suspension of the rule “untethered to evidence.” The judge added that the plaintiffs, including WORC and Fort Berthold POWER, could succeed in the case because BLM failed to justify its decision to postpone provisions of the rule. This means that, unless Secretary Zinke and the BLM can justify the suspension at trial, the suspension will be lifted permanently.
In response to the ruling WORC Oil and Gas Campaign Team Chair, Rodger Steen, issued the following statement:
“The ruling is a big win for us. The WORC network will continue to challenge Secretary Zinke’s blatant disregard for the interests of the citizens’ health and good management practices of the public’s petroleum resource. This is a ruling against the Trump Administration and its pattern of hastily concocted attempts to unravel well-conceived protections of our natural resources. Western communities joined forces and fought for this methane rule and, in the process, exposed the Administration’s lack of concern for citizen interests. WORC, its affiliates, and other citizen organizations will continue to work to correct these poorly concocted assaults on well-conceived standards.”
Implications of court ruling
This court decision is good news for West because it puts the methane waste prevention rule back into effect. The ruling requires industry to comply with the rule until late summer or early fall. Oil and gas companies must now monitor wells on public and tribal lands for leaks, repair faulty equipment, reduce noisy and wasteful flaring, and capture natural gas emissions.
Unfortunately, the court decision does not stop the Administration’s efforts to gut the rule. By the end of 2018, BLM will have collected comments, reviewed those comments and determined whether to repeal the rule. We can’t let that happen.
This is the fourth failure by Zinke and industry groups to suspend this common sense rule. The three other times occurred on:
- January 16, 2017, when a Wyoming District Court denied an attempt by industry trade groups and several states to prevent the rule from going into effect.
- May 10, 2017, when the U.S. Senate failed to kill the methane rule through the Congressional Review Act.
- October 4, 2017, when a California court overturned the Interior’s suspension of important protections of the rule without any opportunity for public comment.
What’s next for the methane waste prevention rule?
The BLM methane waste prevention rule is the result of years of work, 330,000 public comments, four listening sessions, and four public hearings. The rule, if kept in place, would ensure taxpayers receive millions of dollars each year in missing royalties. It would reduce smog and pollution from methane—a greenhouse gas 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
For now, we celebrate this court victory. The reinstatement will benefit the West in many ways over the next six to nine months. But, to truly win, we must continue to fight against the BLM’s attempt to repeal the rule.
The comment period for the proposed replacement rule closes on April 23. Look for opportunities to send in your comments. WORC will send an action alert in the next couple weeks.
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