Commentary: Since President Trump was sworn into office, there has been a meditated dismantaling of common sense standards that keep our communities safe from pollution. Time and time again this administration and industry allies in Congress have attempted to turn back the clock on curbing methane waste by rolling back the Bureau of Land Management (BLM)’s Methane and Waste Prevention rule. The administration has now finalized a stay of the BLM’s rule, which means the rule will be delayed for a year while oil and gas companies continue to waste taxpayer owned natural resources on public lands without limit. On Tuesday, Attorneys General Hector Balderas and Xavier Becerra of California announced a lawsuit over the suspension. Industry announced a voluntary program the day before the stay was announced, but the program doesn't come close to the rigor of the agency rules and includes no oversight.
The BLM's commonsense safeguards help conserve our limited domestic energy resources, and limit dangerous pollution in the air our children breathe. We urge you to editorialize in support of the BLM’s commonsense methane waste rule.
BLM Methane Waste Rule
The BLM methane rule limits the amount of gas oil and gas companies waste on America’s public lands. These vital protections ensure taxpayers get their fair share of royalties on the gas we all own by curbing industry’s wasteful practice of venting, leaking and flaring (burning) natural gas on our public lands without paying for it.
It is estimated that each year oil and gas companies waste $330 million-worth of perfectly good natural gas through the harmful practices of venting and flaring as well as leaks on public lands. Currently, enough taxpayer-owned natural gas is being wasted annually on America’s public lands to meet the needs of a city the size of Chicago for a year. A report by Environmental Defense Fund released new analysis showing that New Mexico oil and gas operations leaked, vented or flared 570,000 tons of methane each year (much of it extracted from our public lands), enough to meet the annual heating and cooking needs of every home in the state.
American taxpayers deserve their fair share of royalties from natural gas that is wasted. A Western Values Project report found that taxpayers stand to lose over $800 million in unpaid royalties over the next decade if the rule is gutted or repealed and the oil and gas industry goes unchecked. The EDF report, mentioned above, estimated between "$182 and $244 million worth of natural gas is wasted each year in New Mexico alone, causing taxpayers to lose out on as much as $27 million in tax and royalty revenues annually."
This means that revenues that would have been returned to our communities in the form of funding for infrastructure projects, school improvements, and conservation efforts, would instead go up in flames. The BLM rule will ensure that taxpayers finally get their fair share of royalties, and that money goes into the coffers of our local communities.
Administration & Courts
After suffering a defeat in Congress, the Trump administration indefinitely paused the rule in June of this year. Several environmental and tribal groups have filed a lawsuit challenging the Trump administration’s decision to pause the rule. Despite a strong and vocal opposition to the delay from stakeholders and voters across the West, the Trump administration is expected to finalize the stay in the coming weeks.
Strong Public Opposition to Rollbacks
Last week, The Majority Institute published a poll showing that early two thirds of New Mexico voters (65 percent) favor a new state rule “requiring New Mexico's oil and gas industry to use technologies to limit the amount of methane gas and other pollution leaked, vented, or flared from oil and gas facilities.”
In early November, when the comment period on Secretary Zinke’s proposed delay of the methane rule closed, the BLM received nearly 200,000 comments in opposition to the delay. Ahead of the close of the comment period a bicameral group of Congress members, over 90 Western faith leaders, 50 environmental organization leaders, 22 Western stakeholders, as well as tribal leaders including the Ojo Encino Chapter and Counselor Chapter in New Mexico, leaders from Fort Berthold POWER in North Dakota, and the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, sent letters to Secretary Zinke urging him to protect the widely supported methane waste rule. Groups across the West also held protests and comment drop-offs at BLM field offices in Colorado and New Mexico to demonstrate their strong opposition to delaying the rule.
In May, a Congressional Review Act resolution to repeal the BLM methane rule, which was backed by the administration and the oil and gas lobby, failed in the United States Senate. That’s because hundreds of thousands of folks on the ground resisted these politicians’ efforts to sell out their health and resources to special interests. Across America, Latino groups, local elected officials, veterans and generals, local business owners, tribal leaders, faith groups, national outdoor recreation businesses, the former Solicitor General of the Department of the Interior, and numerous other stakeholders mobilized to stand up for the rule and push those in the Senate to oppose rolling it back.
Enough is Enough
It is time that the Trump administration stopped relentlessly attacking commonsense methane pollution safeguards that reduce waste and keep our communities healthy. The courts and the United States Senate have both made it clear that they stand with millions of Americans who have shown their unwavering support for the BLM methane rule.
Protecting the air American families breathe from dangerous methane pollution is not a partisan issue. Our leaders in Washington should set politics aside, and resist lobbyist attacks on the BLM rule that protects taxpayers and conserves our invaluable natural resources.