NRDC Sues to Block Trump Interior’s Rollback of Methane Curbs

Today, NRDC went to court to block the Trump administration’s latest hand-out to the oil and gas industry—a rollback of protections against waste and harmful air pollution on America’s public lands, at the expense of communities and taxpayers.

Together with a coalition of environmental and Tribal community groups, NRDC filed a lawsuit in federal court, charging Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke with illegally halting the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. The rule is already curbing smog-forming, cancer-causing, and climate-warming air pollution and recovering more revenue for taxpayers. Air pollution from oil and gas operations threatens the health of nearby communities and accelerates global climate change. California and New Mexico also filed suit against this rollback today.

This rollback came the same week that Zinke and his boss, President Trump, dealt another major blow to protections for public lands when they turned over millions of acres of our National Monuments to industry for more drilling and mining.  

And that’s just what the Trump administration has been up to on public lands. EPA is also busy trying to rollback similar methane pollution safeguards on oil and gas operations across the country at the same time.

BLM’s methane and waste rule rests on a strong technical foundation and is the result of robust public engagement. It updates an out-of-date three-decades-old regulation, requiring common sense measures already in use by leading companies and required by leading states. Indeed, some of the rule’s key requirements were already being implemented prior to this stay, and so its benefits were already being felt.

Last May the U.S. Senate voted down an industry proposal to repeal the rule. But Zinke’s now trying to do industry’s bidding. Indeed, this is his second attempt at rolling back this rule, and NRDC’s second lawsuit to block it.

In October, a federal court in California struck down Zinke’s first attempt to halt the rule. Zinke’s now trying again, with essentially the same claims:  that he should give bad actors in the industry a pass on curbing their emissions when others already are complying with the rule on the books, while he considers whether to repeal or cut back the regulations later down the road. As with the last time, Zinke provided no specific facts backing up his claims of burdensome costs or industry’s inability to comply.   Not a surprise, since the rules are actually inexpensive – and sometimes profitable – to comply with.

Regardless, the law does not allow an agency to yank already effective regulations on such vague and baseless assertions. If he wants to repeal the rule, he needs to compile a factual record to support that change, give the public an opportunity to comment on it, consider and respond to those comments and explain why, in the end, his action comports with law and is supported by the facts. As set forth in our comments on the second stay, Zinke skipped those steps, offering no factual support for his claims, and no rational legal argument for suspending the rule before following the full administrative process the law requires. And he had his mind made up well before NRDC and our partners, and myriad other impacted members of the public, submitted these comments.

The Red Queen’s rules – “First the verdict, then the trial” – do not apply here. We will not let this administration get away with yet another handout to industry at the expense of the American people. As with the Zinke’s first attempt to undo this rule, NRDC and our partners are fighting to save these protections in court. And like the last time around, we are confident we will prevail. 

About the Authors

Meleah Geertsma

Senior Attorney, Midwest program

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