Sec. Zinke provides conflicting information to court, Congress

Yesterday, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke told the Senate Energy Committee the Trump administration will rewrite or rescind the Bureau of Land Management methane waste rule. The methane rule, which was carefully crafted over four years and accounted for nearly 300,000 public comments, sought to ameliorate the adverse public health and climate impacts as well as reduced production royalties caused by the waste and pollution of methane from nearly 100,000 oil and gas wells located on public lands and minerals.

While stating that he intends to “follow the law,” Secretary Zinke’s actions do the opposite, threatening to cause significant methane waste and pollution from oil and gas drilling on public lands. According to Interior, in 2014, oil and gas companies wasted over 4 percent of the natural gas they produced on federal lands, “sufficient gas to supply nearly 1.5 million households with gas for a year.” In the absence of the methane rule, this waste and pollution would continue.

Suggestions that Secretary Zinke would enforce the provisions of the current rule pending a decision to rewrite or rescind the rule were also contradicted by a court document, filed the same day in the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming, involving the ongoing litigation challenging the methane rule advanced by the oil and gas industry and by Wyoming, Texas, North Dakota, and Montana. In that document, the Department of Justice and BLM presented an aggressive three-step plan to entirely suspend—and not enforce—the methane rule and to then rescind or replace it with a new rule (see p.3 highlighted section).

This is deeply problematic. BLM has been on notice since at least 2010, when the Government Accountability Office concluded that BLM’s lack of consistent and effective regulatory safeguards was a cause of methane waste and pollution. While Zinke stated he’d shift the rule away from requiring waste reductions and toward “decentivized* waste,” these are code words for “voluntary measures” that have proven terrifically ineffective. Out of over 475 oil and gas producers in New Mexico, for example, only 10 participate in the Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary Natural Gas Star Program.

“Secretary Zinke’s actions—suspend and then gut the methane rule to give industry free rein to do what it wants—show contempt for the public’s unquestioned desire for strong methane waste and pollution safeguards,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “If Trump and Zinke were acting in good faith, they’d leave the rule in place to safeguard the public interest and to ensure that Americans were receiving their fair share of oil and gas production royalties. This would empower the administration to ‘learn by doing’ and, as necessary, to make careful, measured changes to the methane rule. That’s clearly not what Zinke is doing, but you can be assured that we will watch his every move.”

Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, 575-613-4197, 

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