Interior Secretary Zinke’s latest gift to the oil and gas industry might be illegal

Attorneys general from California and New Mexico filed a lawsuit July 5, 2017 over Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s postponement of the Bureau of Land Management’s methane waste prevention rule. The suit holds that the Interior Department’s failure to implement the rule will cost California taxpayers substantial royalty payments and furthers the Trump administration’s attack on public health.

BLM’s methane rule seeks to reduce the wasteful release into the atmosphere of methane — the primary component of natural gas — from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands. Studies show the rule would save $330 million worth of taxpayer-owned gas annually and would result in $800 million in direct payments to the public over the next decade.

A ruling earlier this week by the U.S. Court of Appeals on a similar issue regarding an EPA methane regulation could provide a clue for where this lawsuit is going. In a 2–1 ruling, the court struck down an attempt by EPA to delay implementation of new emission standards on oil and gas wells, arguing that EPA could not delay an effective date even as they seek to rewrite the regulation.

The Interior Department announced in June it would delay implementation of BLM’s methane waste prevention rule and would, instead, rewrite the rule to be less “burdensome” to the oil and gas industry. This action treads on shaky ground because the rule was already finalized under the Obama administration, and the department is legally obligated to enforce it.

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