After Trump Administration Delays Methane Rules, California and New Mexico File Suit

by | July 7, 2017

By Rebecca Moss

The attorneys general of New Mexico and California jointly filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. Department of the Interior, saying the agency, under the Trump administration, has illegally postponed requirements for companies to comply with methane regulations enacted under the Obama administration.

The lawsuit is the latest in a series of complaints filed by states, environmental advocates and industry groups over the fairness and legality of two federal methane rules finalized in 2016 and meant to reduce oil and gas companies' emissions of methane, a component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas known to exacerbate the effects of climate change.

The suit, filed by New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, is in response to the Interior Department's announcement in early June that oil and gas companies would not have to comply with federal requirements to monitor and reduce the amount of methane released in operations on lands overseen by the Bureau of Land Management over the next two years.

The suit comes as a federal court ruled in a similar case earlier this week that the Environmental Protection Agency's decision to stall implementation of its methane rule was unlawful.

The BLM's methane rule, coupled with new regulations by the EPA, were seen as key components of former President Barack Obama's efforts to fulfill the United States' commitment to lower its greenhouse gas emissions significantly over the coming decades as part of an international climate accord.

But a number of oil and gas industry groups and several Western states sued the agencies, saying they had overreached their authority in the rule-making process and created regulations that were overly costly and burdensome to oil and gas operators.

Balderas and Xavier intervened on behalf of the Interior Department in late 2016, defending the BLM's methane rule.

Since taking office, President Donald Trump has directed all agencies to review any regulations that would be cumbersome to industry growth, leading Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt to roll back the methane regulations. Both said in early June that they wouldn't require companies to comply until legal cases were resolved and additional review of the rules had been completed. That would give companies freedom from compliance for at least two years.

Balderas and Becerra argue that the Interior Department's stay of the BLM regulation is illegal "for several reasons," including that the regulation is already in effect.

Delaying compliance with the rule also could cause excessive harm to public health, damage to an environment facing the impacts of climate change and loss of revenue from natural gas that is allowed to escape into the atmosphere rather than being captured, the attorneys general wrote in their complaint.

(c)2017 The Santa Fe New Mexican (Santa Fe, N.M)