Feb. 3, 2017 – In a close vote, the House of Representatives voted today to repeal a popular, common-sense Bureau of Management rule limiting methane waste by oil and gas companies on public and tribal lands. This was made possible by the Congressional Review Act, an obscure, last-resort tool used successfully only once in American history. Next week, if the Senate votes against keeping this rule, which is already in the Federal Register, taxpayers will pay the price of lost royalties and worsened public health, and the BLM will be forbidden from fulfilling its legal obligation to minimize waste of taxpayer-owned methane by writing a rule in the future that is “substantially the same.”
Similar regulations at the state level have proven successful in Colorado without harming the economy, yet state rules have fallen short of the urgent need to reduce methane waste on public lands. Moreover, state rules do not account for the fact that public lands are held in trust for the American people and must be managed in accord with the strongest standards to ensure a fair return to taxpayers – and to protect wildlife, clean water, and landscape health. Our public lands are, simply put, not a commodity to be exploited in service of the oil and gas industry’s bottom line profit motive.
The BLM rule enjoys 81% support among Western voters, and was developed over nearly a decade, with input from industry, environmentalists, tribes and the public. By requiring oil and gas companies on public land to repair leaky infrastructure and waste less methane through venting and flaring, it’s estimated the BLM methane rule could earn taxpayers $800 million in royalties over the next decade and capture enough methane to power 740,000 households every year.
In addition, leaked methane transports volatile organic compounds, benzene, asthma irritants, and carcinogens to people’s lungs, creating major health problems near oil and gas development. Leaked methane also exacerbates climate change, with methane more than 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide.
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“While the United States of America is experiencing a social and constitutional crisis, Congress is suffering a crisis of conscience,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. “Prioritizing corporate greed over giving a fair deal to taxpayers, improving public health, reducing climate pollution, and fueling job creation in the methane mitigation industry at this time in history is little more than governmental looting. To reject the waste rule wholesale using the CRA would be worse than throwing the baby out with the bathwater – it would create an intractable situation preventing BLM from ensuring a fair return on publicly-owned methane, counter to its legal obligations to the American taxpayer.”
We encourage everyone to contact their senators to oppose permanent repeal of this common-sense rule before the vote, expected in the next two weeks.
The Western Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to safeguard the wildlife, wildlands, and communities of the American West. We envision a West with thriving, resilient wildlands, waters, and wildlife; a region powered by clean, renewable energy; and communities that are rooted in an ethic of conservation. www.westernlaw.org