Some western farmers, religious leaders and land advocates are asking the new Secretary of the Interior to slow down a review, and potential dismantling, of methane gas regulations that limit flaring and leaks.
Federal agencies were instructed to review all regulations potentially burdensome to energy production in a March 28 executive order from President Donald Trump. The Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste rule, finalized Nov. 15, was one of a handful of regulations singled out in the president’s order. The Department of the Interior responded with a promise to gauge whether the methane rule was aligned with the president's directions within 21 days.
That’s not enough time in some Westerners’ opinions.
In a Wednesday letter to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, formerly a congressman from Montana, groups like the Wyoming Association of Churches and Native American Voters Alliance asked that if the rule were to be reviewed by the department, it should be done with the same process that created it, including formal public comment periods and public forums.
“That process reflects how the Bureau of Land Management arrived at the current rule, and it is important that you hear from the people who are most affected by the waste of resources,” the letter states.
The groups request a 60 day extension “to account for the intricate nature of this issue.”
“Three weeks is not sufficient to review a rule that was three years in the making, with hundreds of thousands of pages of comments, reports, studies and other documentation,” the letter states.
A recent poll from Colorado College reported that 87 percent of Wyomingites supported strict methane emissions limits on public land. Yet, the rule has found its way to the center of controversy as a fresh Congress sought to rapidly undo federal rules and regulations that they say limit industry development on federal land. Members of Wyoming’s delegation have publicly supported the possible elimination of the methane rule.
Industry groups argue that the BLM rule is punitive as it requires costly manpower to check for leakage along pipelines and interconnections and mandates the purchase of infrared equipment to detect leaks. Those in favor of these rules say the cost is recouped by saved natural gas resources that can then be sold.
Wyoming has similar regulations to the BLM's methane rule in the Upper Green River Basin, where pollution years ago led to increased air quality controls from the state’s Department of Environmental Quality. Some companies in Wyoming, like Jonah Energy, have reported a net benefit after the implementation of stricter emissions controls.
The Secretary's review of the rule is not the only challenge it faces.
The rule was flagged for repeal under the Congressional Review Act, which allows congressmen to dismantle midnight regulations from an outgoing administration with a simple majority vote in each house. However, unlike other Obama-era rules caught in the crosshairs and promptly eliminated in recent weeks, the methane rule still sits in the Senate where it was introduced. Congress only has 60 working days to utilize the CRA, which means the methane rule must be addressed by May if Congress wants it struck down.
The methane rule is also opposed in the courts, with Wyoming and other states arguing that the Bureau of Land Management has overstepped its bounds by regulating air quality. That power is the purview of the Environmental Protection Agency, some say. Supporters of increased gas restrictions shoot back that the methane rule is about wasted natural resources as much as air quality.
A Wyoming judge refused to stay the implementation of the methane rule while it progressed through the courts. It took affect in January.
Signees of the letter to Zinke include leaders from the Western Values Project, Native American Voters Alliance, the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union and the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Vet Voice Foundation.