Congress rolling back BLM’s methane rule, similar to Colorado’s rule

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Washington, D.C.-, February 3, 2017 | comments

The Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives on Friday voted to roll back the Bureau of Land Management’s nascent rule requiring oil and gas companies to look for and fix field equipment that may be leaking methane, a greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere.

The move is part of Republicans’ broader effort to dismantle some regulations put in place by former President Barack Obama’s administration.

The House and U.S. Senate, which also has a Republican majority, also gave final approval this week to a measure that eliminates a rule that blocked companies from putting coal mining debris into nearby streams.

The votes implemented the Congressional Review Act, which dates to the 1970s and has been rarely used prior to the last few weeks. The act allows Congress to review regulations put forward by agencies during the last 60 legislative days and eliminate them via a majority vote and the approval of the President.

The act also bars agencies from issuing similar regulations in the future — unless a future Congress grants the agency the authority to do so.

Colorado’s Representatives voted along party lines on whether to eliminate the BLM’s methane rule, which was modeled on Colorado’s own regulations:

Jessica Goad, a spokeswoman for Conservation Colorado, the state’s largest local environmental advocacy group, in a statement called the Congressional move “an extreme action that will undo the progress we have made on clean air here in Colorado by allowing other states to foul our air.”

The BLM issued its rule on Nov. 15, 2016, and was swiftly sued by two oil and gas trade associations — Denver’s Western Energy Alliance and the Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), which has a Colorado chapter — seeking to halt the rule.

In announcing the rule, then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said it would modernize “decades-old standards.”

“We are proving that we can cut harmful methane emissions that contribute to climate change, while putting in place standards that make good economic sense for the nation. Not only will we save more natural gas to power our nation, but we will modernize decades-old standards to keep pace with industry and to ensure a fair return to the American taxpayers for use of a valuable resource that belongs to all of us,” Jewell said.

In November, Kathleen Sgamma, then the vice president of public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance and currently its president, said the BLM “lacks statutory authority” to create what’s essentially “an air quality regulatory program” that is the jurisdiction of the EPA and the states.

“We support the goals of capturing greater quantities of associated gas and reducing waste gas, but overreaching regulation that fails to acknowledge industry success is not the most effective way to meet those goals,” Sgamma said at the time.

The suit claimed the rule for the Bureau of Land Management is beyond the agency’s authority and duplicates rules issued by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and by various states such as Colorado.

The status of the BLM’s regulation for oil and gas wells drilled on federal lands won’t have much practical affect on energy companies drilling in Colorado.

Colorado in 2014 issued rules requiring companies to look for leaks in oil and gas equipment and fix them in order to reduce the release of natural gas, and methane, into the atmosphere. Energy companies must comply with the state’s rules if the well-site is in Colorado, regardless of whether it’s on federal, private or tribal lands.

Content originally published by the Denver Business Journal on February 3, 2017.
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