By Meleah Geertsma, Natural Resources Defense Council
The Department of the Interior acted illegally when it yanked the first-ever limits on methane waste and pollution for oil and gas operations on our public lands, according to a lawsuit NRDC and our partners filed today.
In May, the U.S. Senate voted against killing the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, rebuffing the oil and gas lobby. In doing so, Congress left in place standards that protect against health-harming, climate-changing waste and pollution from the industry on federally owned land. The standards limit waste of natural gas and pollution on more than 750 million acres of public and tribal lands across the United States, as well as private lands where the minerals are federally managed. This is an area more than seven times the size of California—and home to national parks and America’s last wild places, as well as farms, ranches, and backyards.
But just one month later the new administration stepped in to do the industry’s bidding, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke put key components of the rule on hold indefinitely, without following any process to do so—no proposal, no public hearing and no opportunity for public comments. He simply issued a final rule that he claimed justified the repeal of requirements for industry to plug leaks of methane and other air pollution, and stop flaring (another wasteful process).
This action flouts the basic rule of law, as our democracy does not give Secretary Zinke the broad authority to rollback the rule in this manner. So today we joined California and New Mexico, and together with our partner organizations hauled Interior Secretary Zinke and the Bureau of Land Management into court.
Our legal case specifically takes issue with Secretary Zinke erroneously relying on a provision of the Administrative Procedure Act that does not allow the agency to halt properly adopted and already-effective standards like the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule (which went into effect in January 2017). This lawsuit comes just a week after the administration suffered a court defeat in a parallel case brought by NRDC involving EPA’s similar nationwide standards for methane from the oil and gas industry.
There, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt tried to instate a three-month halt of the methane standards, likely as a first step in repealing the rules altogether. But after NRDC and our partners quickly filed suit against this stay, the D.C. Circuit ruled in our favor in less than a month, finding EPA’s rational pretextual and that Administrator Pruitt had acted beyond his authority under the Clean Air Act.
However, EPA is not giving up on halting the methane standards. Using a separate process, the agency is still proposing to delay to those standards for up to two years. EPA is holding a public hearing on that proposal today at its D.C. offices. NRDC’s experts are there testifying against it.
Industry data show that there have been more than 18,000 wells drilled after September 2015 that are currently subject to the standards that Pruitt is attacking. More than 200,000 people live within a half-mile of these wells, including more than 51,000 kids. And EPA itself admits in its proposals that children may be disproportionately harmed by delaying the protections.
Just as we did with EPA, NRDC and our partners are stepping in today to protect BLM safeguards against wasted gas and pollution that are fueling climate change and poisoning the air our children breathe. People’s health and the stability of our planet must come before favors for corporate polluters.