KRWG

24 Senate Democrats Urge Protection Of BLM Methane Waste Rule

Feb 2, 2017

Credit U.S. Senator Tom Udall D-NM

Commentary: WASHINGTON – Today, 24 Senate Democrats, led by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), urged Senate leaders to defend the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Methane and Natural Gas Waste Prevention Rule, which protects air quality and prevents the waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas on federal and Tribal lands, by opposing efforts to dismantle it through the rarely used and extremely dangerous process set out in the Congressional Review Act. 

In a letter to Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Chairman and Ranking Member of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Maria Cantwell (D. Wash.), the senators argued that dismantling the rule is a shortsighted and overly aggressive approach that would waste hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer-owned natural gas resources each year — particularly New Mexico, Colorado and Wyoming — risk public health, enrich entrenched corporations and yet stifle new industry growth. Additionally, federal law directs the BLM to require producers to use all reasonable precautions to prevent waste of oil or gas produced on public land, and a federal judge in Wyoming ruled last month the new methane rule is within the BLM’s authority. 

The existing rule "seeks to limit the waste of public and tribal natural gas resources currently estimated to total $330 million per year," the senators wrote. "In 2013 alone, the amount of federally owned natural gas wasted due to venting and flaring resulted in lost royalties to the nation and states, included nearly $4 million for Colorado, nearly $7.7 million for New Mexico, and more than $14.8 million in Wyoming. This is millions of dollars that could go to state infrastructure needs, schools, and emergency services." 

In addition, the rule was written after years of public and industry outreach and carefully balances the needs of the growing oil and gas industry as well as the importance of addressing the public health impacts caused by natural gas waste. Not only will the rule improve air quality to protect everyone exposed to smog — particularly children, senior citizens and those suffering from asthma — but it will also support a rapidly expanding segment of the oil and gas industry specializing in methane waste mitigation.

"Manufacturing, development and outfitting of oil and gas wells with these technologies is a vibrant and growing American business already located in 46 states throughout the country. This burgeoning industry needs the certainty that comes with a common baseline standard across the West to invest in growth," they wrote.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) process has rarely been used in the past because it is so extreme. But this year, Republicans are taking aim at many new standards that protect consumers, taxpayers and public health, including the natural gas waste rule. Using the CRA, Republicans could wipe out entire regulations, and by law, the agency is barred from setting any rule that is “substantially the same.” Given the hostility of the administration and congressional Republicans toward laws to protect the environment and consumers — combined with the normally slow pace of Congress — that likely means that such protections couldn't be put into place again through law or regulation for years. As a result, American families would pay the price with their health while corporations would get wealthier at their expense.

The senators said there is no justification for such an extreme tactic. "The CRA is an improper and radical way to address potential issues that some members may have with this particular regulation," they wrote. "The provisions of the rule are based on recommendations from several independent government studies as well as stakeholder input at public forums in 2014. Over almost three years, the federal government undertook 8 public forums and read through more than 300,000 public comments. After receiving numerous requests from the public, the BLM extended the 60 day comment period on the proposed rule an additional 14 days. This has been a remarkably open, transparent process that has incorporated comments and suggestions from all stakeholders including state and local governments, industry, native nations and the public at large…. At a minimum, we believe that the public deserves full consideration of this measure on the floor to ensure we are fully protecting the health and interests of the American taxpayer and minimizing preventable waste of federal resources because the American people see a fair return on the investment of their resources."

In addition to Udall and Wyden, the letter was signed by Senators Michael F. Bennet (D-Colo.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Gary Peters (D-Mich.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Cory A. Booker (N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Christopher A. Coons (D-Del.) and Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).

The full text of the letter can be found here and below.

Dear Leader McConnell, Leader Schumer, Chairman Murkowski  and Ranking Member Cantwell:

As you know, the Department of the Interior finalized the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule to prevent the needless waste of federally owned natural gas resources in November of 2016. We, the undersigned Senators, urge you to protect the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue due to American taxpayers for the development of publicly owned energy resources by ceasing efforts to dismantle this regulation using blunt instruments, such as the Congressional Review Act (CRA).

The Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management rule seeks to limit the waste of public and tribal natural gas resources currently estimated to total $330 million per year. In 2013 alone, the amount of federally owned natural gas wasted due to venting and flaring resulted in lost royalties to the nation and states, included nearly $4 million for Colorado, nearly $7.7 million for New Mexico, and more than $14.8 million in Wyoming.  This is millions of dollars that could go to state infrastructure needs, schools, and emergency services.  This rule revises decades-old regulations pursuant to the agency’s statutory obligation under the Mineral Leasing Act to ensure “that the permittee or lessee will, in conducting his explorations and mining operations, use all reasonable precautions to prevent waste of oil or gas developed in the land.” (Sec. 16 amended) Under the law, BLM has the obligation to conserve the oil and gas resource, prevent waste, and ensure that taxpayers receive a fair return on production from federal leases. 

The Congressional Review Act is an exceedingly blunt tool for Congress to undertake to address any lingering concerns about commonsense revisions to an  aging rule. In fact, in 2010 the non-partisan Government Accountability Office (GAO) called for the Department of the Interior to improve its data collection and address the limitations of its previous regulation, which is exactly what the new rule does. But the CRA would undo these waste minimization and taxpayer protection guidelines – and it would do so without public input, and in a way that would make it difficult to address GAO’s good governance recommendations going forward. The CRA is an improper and radical way to address potential issues that some members may have with this particular regulation.

The provisions of the rule are based on recommendations from several independent government studies as well as stakeholder input at public forums in 2014.  Over almost three years, the federal government undertook 8 public forums and read through more than 300,000 public comments.  After receiving numerous requests from the public, the BLM extended the 60 day comment period on the proposed rule an additional 14 days.  This has been a remarkably open, transparent process that has incorporated comments and suggestions from all stakeholders including state and local governments, industry, native nations and the public at large.

This regulation will help ensure taxpayers, state governments, and tribal nations receive every dollar due for the use of publicly owned resources at a reasonable cost to producers. The regulations are commonsense and cost effective, as ICF International also found that up to 40% of natural gas can be captured with a cost of just a penny per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced. And, by phasing in requirements, the rules will enable producers to plan for an orderly transition to ultimately cut flaring in half at oil wells on public and tribal lands.  

In addition, this regulation will support a rapidly expanding segment of the oil and gas industry specializing in methane waste mitigation. Manufacturing, development and outfitting of oil and gas wells with these technologies is a vibrant and growing American business already located in 46 states throughout the country. This burgeoning industry needs the certainty that comes with a common baseline standard across the West to invest in growth.  The Methane and Waste Prevention Rule would also encourage significant infrastructure investments to move recoverable natural gas to plants and refineries.

Finally, leaked natural gas imposes stark public health risks.  High levels of smog can harm everyone, but children, senior citizens, and people with asthma are particularly at risk of heart attacks, hospitalization, and lower quality of life.  Natural gas releases frequently include other toxic chemicals that impact health, such as hydrogen sulfide, toluene, xylene, benzene and formaldehyde.  These toxic air pollutants increase the chance of cancer, respiratory, neurological, reproductive, developmental and other serious health problems. 

At a minimum, we believe that the public deserves full consideration of this measure on the floor to ensure we are fully protecting the health and interests  of the American taxpayer and minimizing preventable waste of federal resources because the American people see a fair return on the investment of their resources.  Thank you.