Dealing Blow to Big Oil, Court Reinstates Rule that Prevents the Leaking, Flaring of Potent Methane Gas

Siding with NRDC and our partners, a federal court ruled that the Trump administration broke the law when it undid the Methane Waste Prevention Rule, which protects people’s health and the climate.

Oil fracking in Colorado's North Park.

WildEarth Guardians via Flickr

A federal court sided with NRDC and our partners today, rejecting the Trump administration’s attempts to allow oil and gas facilities on public lands to release more potent, planet-warming methane pollution.

“The chickens are coming home to roost for the Bureau of Land Management,” says Lissa Lynch, an attorney in NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program. “The Waste Prevention Rule is a commonsense protection that holds the oil and gas industry accountable for uncontrolled leaking of methane—pollution that harms public health and fuels climate change.”

In 2018, the Bureau rescinded the Methane Waste Prevention Rule, which requires oil and gas facilities to take proven measures to stop the unnecessary leaking, flaring, and venting of methane—a gas that packs hundreds to thousands of times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide and is the second-biggest driver of climate change. So NRDC—alongside a coalition of nearly 20 conservation and tribal citizen groups, as well as the states of California and New Mexico—sued the agency over its rollback.

Yesterday, the court called the Bureau’s move “backwards,” “fickle,” and “wholly inadequate” and found that the agency failed to fully comply with the National Environmental Policy Act, a bedrock law that allows communities to have a say in government actions—which the Trump administration is also attempting to gut.

The oil and gas industry remains the largest national emitter of methane. According to the Bureau’s own calculations, the Waste Prevention Rule prevents 180,000 tons of methane pollution each year, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from nearly a million passenger vehicles. The rule also helps to protect people’s health by reducing smog-forming and cancer-causing air pollution.

Though Americans overwhelmingly support federal efforts to cut methane pollution, according to polling from the American Lung Association, the Bureau’s rollback is the latest in a series of attempts by the Trump administration, alongside oil and gas companies, to block the Waste Prevention Rule.

“This blistering opinion is yet another in a string of court rulings telling the Trump administration that no matter how badly it wants to, it can’t ignore procedural requirements and simply throw out safeguards without relying on science and giving the public a meaningful opportunity to weigh in,” Lynch says.

The 2018 lawsuit was filed together with the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Defense Fund, the Wilderness Society, National Wildlife Federation, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, Montana Environmental Information Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Western Organization of Resource Councils, WildEarth Guardians, Wilderness Workshop, and the Wyoming Outdoor Council.

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