Zinke’s Latest Gift to Big Oil: Suspending Methane Waste Safeguards

A coalition of groups, including NRDC, are suing the Trump administration for rolling back these important protections.

Jim West/Alamy

In January 2017, the Bureau of Land Management enacted a rule that requires oil and gas companies to implement cost-effective strategies to reduce natural gas waste from their operations on public and tribal lands. But last Friday, in the latest of a series of attempts to skirt those regulations, the Trump administration suspended compliance for one year while it rewrites the rule. Today, NRDC and a coalition of environmental and tribal citizen groups filed a lawsuit challenging that move.

“This is yet another handout to industry at the expense of the American people,” Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney at NRDC, said. “These commonsense measures prevent unnecessary waste that fuels climate change, creates smog, and can cause cancer—all while saving taxpayers money.”

The rule was designed to update waste regulations that were more than 30 years old and did not reflect the dramatic advances in oil and gas drilling technology or the rapid expansion of drilling operations on public lands in recent years. What’s more, many states and companies have already implemented the proven pollution-reducing strategies, which include requiring companies to monitor wells for leaks, repair faulty equipment, reduce noisy and wasteful flaring, and capture unnecessary natural gas emissions.

Industry trade groups and several states previously tried, and failed, to get a court to prevent the rule from going into effect. In May 2017, the Senate voted not to consider a repeal of the Obama-era rule in a bipartisan, 51–49 vote. U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Zinke then unilaterally suspended parts of the rule, but that action was struck down by a California court in October. Despite these unsuccessful attempts to skirt the law, the Trump administration seems set on making its oil and gas industry allies happy—at the expense of our health, environment, and economy.

“Once again, when the oil and gas industry says ‘jump,’ the Trump administration says ‘How high?’” Geertsma says.

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