By Jeremy Martin, Union of Concerned Scientists
Yesterday I spoke at a forum in the Capitol on the Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste Rule, an event organized by Democratic members of the House Natural Resources Committee. I offered testimony on a panel of experts including a former BLM official involved in developing the rule, a nurse speaking about the public health benefits of the rule, a scientist from Clean Air Task Force who discussed the Colorado rules on which parts of the BLM rule were modeled, and a pastor who talked about the moral imperative to use natural resources responsibly, and limit the harms caused by climate change.
Four democratic Representatives asked questions and made statements. These included Congressman Grijalva from Arizona, who is the ranking member on the Committee for Natural Resources, along with Congressman Huffman (CA), Congressman Lowenthal (CA), and Congressman McEachin (VA).
Republicans are threatening to eliminate the BLM Methane regulation using an obscure, radical, and rarely used congressional trick called the Congressional Review Act (CRA).
The CRA allows Congress, with a simple majority, to completely revoke any rules made in the last 6 months of the Obama administration. It is a blunt tool that would revoke regulations that went through extensive stakeholder review, used evidence-based science, had public notice and comment, and took a few years on average to be finalized.
In addition, it stipulates that any rule that is similar to the rule can NEVER be done again, unless Congress gives explicit permission–thus salting the earth.
The BLM methane regulation updates rules issued in the Carter administration governing how oil and gas are produced on Federal and tribal land. The new rules will reduce leaks, venting, and flaring of natural gas, which not only wastes a resource that belongs to the American people, but also turns it into a health and climate hazard.
Apparently, the oil industry likes the 1979 vintage rules better, and the new Congress is rushing to do their bidding, quickly moving to revoke a rule that was three years in the making. But rolling back the regulatory clock to 1979 would be as dumb as removing requirements for airbags and anti-lock brakes from modern cars.
A lot has changed in the last 38 years, including the rise of fracking and the associated methane pollution from tight oil production. Rapidly reducing methane pollution–the leading non-CO2 pollutant responsible for climate change–is more urgent than ever before.
The last decades have also seen new technologies to measure, manage and utilize natural resources responsibly. An up-to-date regulatory framework for the oil and gas industry is essential to holding a massively polluting industry accountable.
The CRA is touted as a tool to exert control over unauthorized, unnecessary, or unreasonable agency regulation, but the methane and waste prevention rule is clearly authorized, necessary and reasonable.
Former Counselor to the Director of the Bureau of Land Management Alexandra Teitz explains in her testimony that BLM is required by law to prevent waste and ensure that resource extraction on public lands is conducted in a safe and responsible manner. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) estimated that State and Federal taxpayers are losing as much as $23 million per year in royalty revenue due to this waste, and GAO found that the BLM needed to update its rules to address this waste.
The BLM worked on these rules for three years, holding numerous hearings around the country. They received more than 300,000 public comments and made changes to the final regulation based on this feedback. As Dr. David McCabe, Senior Scientist at the Clean Air Task Force explained in his testimony, the waste rule was modeled on policies already implemented in Colorado, Wyoming and North Dakota.
As these states’ experience shows, sensible up-to-date standards work to cut pollution and waste, and their requirements are easily implemented. These rules are not going to stop the oil industry from drilling for oil and gas; they just set reasonable standards of performance that reflect the current best practices modeled in states.
Responsible industries recognize that an up-to-date regulatory framework is necessary to protect the public and ensure that irresponsible actions by a few bad actors do not tarnish the whole industry. Cars, trucks and even appliances are subject to numerous standards that ensure that as technology changes, so do requirements for safety, pollution and efficiency.
The history of oil and gas extraction is filled with egregious examples illustrating the need for strong regulations to protect the public, and it is especially obvious that oil companies operating on public lands, who are extracting resources that belong to the American people, should be held to reasonable standards to avoid waste and unnecessary pollution.
The same day I was speaking to House Democrats, Former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was being narrowly confirmed as Secretary of State and Jack Gerard of the American Petroleum Institute was speaking at a hearing on regulations in the Senate.
Under cover of the maelstrom that is DC this last couple weeks, Mr. Gerard invented some alternative facts and head-spinning doublespeak about the CRA. API’s press release on Mr. Gerard’s testimony was titled “smart, science-based regulation needed to advance America’s energy renaissance and jobs.” Apparently even API knows that is what people expect and demand. But what Mr. Gerard actually said was:
This week, we support the efforts of Congress as it takes the first step to pull back a number of these ill- considered and hasty regulations under the CRA. These include Section 1504 of Dodd-Frank, which places U.S.-based energy companies at a competitive disadvantage in the world marketplace, and BLM’s methane regulations, which are technically flawed and redundant to state regulation. Furthermore, we look forward to the anticipated CRA resolution on EPA’s redundant and unnecessary Risk Management Program rulemaking.
Despite Mr. Gerard’s doublespeak, the CRA has the opposite effect – killing smart, science-based regulations and blocking agencies from issuing any similar updates in the future, unless Congress passes new legislation specifically authorizing it.
The CRA is the opposite of a smart science-based regulation; it is a dirty trick that Congress can use to do the oil industry’s bidding.