One promising hallmark of President Donald Trump’s tenure has been the ability of federal courts to check his administration’s impulsive actions.
A recent appeals court ruling on methane emissions is an important example. By a 2-1 margin, the U.S. Court of Appealsfor the District of Columbia Circuit struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s 90-day suspension of new methane emissions standards for oil and gas wells.
The EPA had delayed implementation of the new rule for 90 days and has proposed extending that delay for another two years. The court found this was a smoke screen for repealing the rule without following the appropriate process.
Meanwhile, Rep. Rob Bishop sees deregulatory opportunity in the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s rule on methane escaping from oil and gas operations. The Obama BLM recently put out rules to require operators to trap more methane, a change that not only cleans up the air but also gives operators more natural gas to sell. But Bishop wants Congress to rescind the methane rule, something he’s betting a Trump BLM won’t challenge.
Mr. Trump won the presidency, in part, by promising to hold powerful interests accountable for practices that harm the public. But nullifying final rules — which went through a long, public process on the way to being issued — elevates corporate interests above all others
Congress’s moves would be less concerning except for one of the most powerful provisions in the Congressional Review Act: a stipulation that, once lawmakers have rescinded a rule, federal agencies cannot issue a new one “substantially” like it. This legal standard has not been tested in court. But it means that Congress may be essentially barring agencies such as the Interior Department from revisiting issues such as methane pollution on federal lands in a rigorous way. That is not a legacy the 115th Congress should be seeking.
The leak was a wake-up call. Too few people had recognized the tremendous risks of Aliso Canyon —that an aging facility operating under grossly outdated and inadequate standards could wreak havoc on public health and the environment. About 80% of the facility’s wells were built before the 1970s, and Southern California Gas knew they were corroding and failing at an increasing rate. But there were no rules mandating frequent inspections or upgrades. What’s more, government officials didn’t seem sufficiently concerned that the state’s energy supply had become so heavily dependent on Aliso Canyon.
Lawmakers themselves encouraged the Obama administration to create standards in response to the disastrous gas leak in Aliso Canyon. Poor facility design, combined with a lack of monitoring, contributed to the extent of the leak and the time it took to resolve it.
Industry professionals should embrace the recommendations as part of their corporate responsibility as they profit off the Keystone State’s wealth of natural gas. Citizens’ health and safety should always come before corporate profit.
With new rules about methane waste issued earlier this year by the Environmental Protection Agency for private lands (lawsuits are pending, of course) and rules for federal and tribal lands being formulated by the Bureau of Land Management, the cloud of methane could be on its way out. The BLM rules — designed to reduce natural gas waste from “flaring, venting and leaks from oil and gas production” — are scheduled for adoption by November. Adoption before the election is important so a new president cannot reduce regulation necessary to control this pollution.
The bottom line of the NASA study is that 25 points of emission – gas wells, storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants – are responsible for about one-fourth of all the methane leaking into the atmosphere over the Four Corners.
And the point of a new Environmental Protection Agency rule, forthcoming Bureau of Land Management regulations and the NASA study is not to shut down oil and gas production, but to monitor equipment and mend leaks that likely hurt industry bottom lines as much as the environment.
We applaud the BLM and EPA for taking action, and LPEA for taking a step forward on a project that makes good economic and environmental sense, Though a step in the right direction, we do need a comprehensive approach to resolve some of our toughest air, land and water quality issues so, as with the Gold King mine spill, the public is not left footing the bill.
Canada, Mexico and the U.S. agreed to reduce the escape of oil and gas-generated methane by 45 percent by 2025. They also pledged that half of their energy would be generated from clean sources and to phase out government fossil fuel subsidies by 2025.