Democratic News

Nov 03 2017

Cantwell, Colleagues Oppose Delay of BLM Waste Prevention Rule, Urge Zinke to Save Taxpayer Money and Protect Public Health

‘Any attempt to roll back this rule would represent a giveaway to industry polluters’

WASHINGTON, D.C. — This week, Ranking Member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), and U.S. Representatives Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) led a bicameral group of 81 lawmakers in urging Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke not to suspend or unlawfully delay implementation of the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) methane waste prevention rule. The lawmakers disputed the department's stated rationale for attempting to repeal the rule, and requested public hearings and an extension on the public comment period regarding any changes to the rule. 

Leaking, venting, and flaring from natural gas operations on federal and Tribal lands releases dangerous pollutants into the air and wastes $330 million in taxpayer-owned natural gas each year. The BLM rule requires modest steps to prevent unnecessary waste.

“We support the BLM’s rule because it prevents the unnecessary waste of a public resource, and makes sure that American taxpayers get fair value in return for commercial use of that public resource,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Secretary Zinke. “The administration has a statutorily required obligation to prevent the waste of this valuable resource on public lands, a resource that belongs to the taxpayers. The American people deserve to get a proper return on this natural gas resource, and any attempt to roll back this rule would represent a giveaway to industry polluters.”

Claims by the Interior Department that the rule will lead to job losses and well closures and discourage industry from leasing on federal and Tribal lands have no basis, the lawmakers said. In fact, states that have required similar steps, such as Colorado, have seen a dramatic reduction in waste while also experiencing job growth in the waste-prevention industry.

“Protecting the health and safety of the American people is inarguably a core function of government and the rule’s requirements are based on well-reasoned science. Capturing and preventing methane emissions will reduce exposure of hazardous pollutants in our local communities and will provide economic benefits to industry," they wrote. "If the rule is delayed, the BLM itself estimates that an additional 175,000 to 250,000 tons of methane and volatile organic compounds would pollute the air we breathe. And yet the BLM found that implementation of the rule would reduce average company profits by only 0.15 percent and, if savings from increased revenues from increased gas sales are taken into account, the net economic benefit to industry could be as much as $46 million per year.”

Given the overwhelming public interest in preventing waste, the lawmakers urged Zinke to hold public hearings and extend the public comment period from 30 to 90 days to ensure adequate opportunity for public involvement regarding any changes to the rule. Additionally, they urged the administration to follow the Federal District Court’s order to immediately enforce all provisions of the rule that have taken effect.

A PDF copy of the letter is available here and the full text of the letter is available below.

Dear Mr. Secretary:

We write in strong opposition to the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) recent announcement that it intends to pursue a new rulemaking to repeal or revise the agency’s methane waste prevention rule and any unlawful attempts to delay enforcement of the existing rule. We support the BLM’s rule because it prevents the unnecessary waste of a public resource, and makes sure that American taxpayers get fair value in return for commercial use of that public resource.

The rule updated BLM regulations that had become obsolete over the past 35 years. The increased oil and gas development on public lands – including widespread use of horizontal drilling and fracking -- can pose significant risks to clean air, clean water, human health, wildlife, and local communities. Numerous independent reports and investigations, including those from the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), documented that BLM’s outdated policies did not take account of currently available technologies that reduce waste from venting and flaring. 

The GAO has repeatedly found that the Department of the Interior (DOI) can do more to minimize waste of public oil and gas resources.   GAO has continued to place the DOI’s management of federal oil and gas resources in its “High Risk List” of federal programs that are especially vulnerable to waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement.   Wasted natural gas from oil and gas operations across the United States is estimated at approximately $2 billion every year and would be enough gas to heat over 7 million homes. This includes an estimated $330 million worth of natural gas just from public and Tribal lands that could be prevented through the rule. The administration has a statutorily required obligation to prevent the waste of this valuable resource on public lands, a resource that belongs to the taxpayers. The American people deserve to get a proper return on this natural gas resource, and any attempt to roll back this rule would represent a giveaway to industry polluters.

If the rule is delayed, the BLM itself estimates that an additional 175,000 to 250,000 tons of methane and volatile organic compounds would pollute the air we breathe. And yet the BLM found that implementation of the rule would reduce average company profits by only 0.15 percent and, if savings from increased revenues from increased gas sales are taken into account, the net economic benefit to industry could be as much as $46 million per year. Protecting the health and safety of the American people is inarguably a core function of government and the rule’s requirements are based on well-reasoned science. Capturing and preventing methane emissions will reduce exposure of hazardous pollutants in our local communities and will provide economic benefits to industry.

The Department’s stated rationale for moving to repeal or revise the rule is not supported by the facts. There is no credible evidence that the rule will cause marginal wells to shut-in, will drive industry away from federal and Tribal lands, or will result in job loss. The state of Colorado enacted similar methane control rules in 2014, and has not experienced any of these negative consequences. Since the BLM rule went into effect on January 17, 2017 there has been no evidence of any significant negative impacts on economic activity in the oil and gas sector. 

Given the paucity of information provided by BLM in its Federal Register notice, and the great public interest in this rule, we respectfully request the public comment period be extended an additional 60 days, to a total of 90 days, and that public hearings especially in the Western U.S. be added to ensure adequate opportunity for public involvement. We also ask that you ensure the social cost of methane used to evaluate the benefits of the rule conforms to a science-based approach and reflects the October 4, 2017 decision in the Northern District of California District Court.

Finally, the Federal District Court rejected the BLM’s attempt to delay compliance with the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, and ordered BLM to immediately enforce all provisions of the rule that have taken effect. We urge you to fully implement those provisions without further delay. 

 

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