Udall, Heinrich Lead 52 Lawmakers in Challenging Trump Roll Back of Methane Waste Prevention Rule

Supported by Luján and Haaland, amicus brief makes case that Interior’s rollback violates federal law by authorizing waste of public oil and gas resources, harming the public interest; Every year, an estimated $330 million of natural gas is wasted by the oil and gas industry on public and Tribal lands

WASHINGTON – Today, U.S. Senators Tom Udall, ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies and Martin Heinrich and U.S. Representatives Ben Ray Luján, Deb Haaland, and Raul Grijalva, Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee led a group of 52 lawmakers in filing an amicus brief challenging the Trump Interior Department’s decision to revise and effectively reverse the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) 2016 Methane and Waste Prevention rule.

A copy of the full amicus brief can be found HERE.

“The Trump rollback of the Methane Waste and Prevention Rule was an egregious giveaway to irresponsible polluters, greenlighting the waste of publicly-owned resources and authorizing damage to the environment. In New Mexico, we lose nearly $43 million each year in royalty revenues from methane waste on public lands, money that should be going to fund schools and infrastructure. BLM’s own analysis found that scrapping the methane waste prevention rule would lead to more than $1 billion in wasted natural gas and pollution nationwide, but still the Trump administration is determined to serve the interest of the worst polluters in the industry and trample any efforts to protect taxpayers and public health and combat climate change,” said Udall. “This brief makes it clear that Congress’s intent in enacting the Mineral Leasing Act was not to protect the profitability of industry but to protect the public interest. I applaud states like New Mexico that are stepping up to stop methane waste on their own and will continue to speak up in Congress when laws are outright violated by this administration.”

“The Trump administration’s watered down methane rules fly in the face of logic, science, and responsible decision-making. When oil and gas companies modernize their equipment to reduce leaks, they are able to capture more gas that they can sell, as well as increase worker safety at their wells. Reducing methane leaks means that instead of having a giant methane cloud over the northwest corner of New Mexico and over the Navajo Nation—a major public health hazard—we can put our natural gas resources to beneficial use. When we capture more gas that also means we see more royalties and revenues for states, tribes, and local communities. We need to implement strong rules to reduce methane waste to protect the air we breathe and meet our responsibility to reduce greenhouse gas pollution,” said Heinrich.

“The Trump administration’s roll back of a critical environmental standard is another example of President Trump siding with special interests and polluters over our families. Methane pollution is being pumped into the air we breathe in communities across New Mexico – including on public and tribal lands – and putting our public health and environment at risk. Many oil and gas companies are recklessly wasting natural gas, and undercutting important revenues that our economy relies on. I’m proud to stand up against the Trump administration and fight for responsible methane regulations,” said Assistant Speaker Luján.

“Our families deserve clean air and water, but the rollback of methane rules allows leaks out of drilling rigs and pipes that threaten the health of our communities while allowing oil and gas companies to irresponsibly remove resources from the state without paying for it. We’re supporting the challenge to the Trump administration’s rollbacks so that we can protect public health and recoup funds for wasteful practices on public lands,” said Haaland, Vice Chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.

“President Trump is gutting key public land and environmental protections and wreaking havoc on communities across the nation,” Chair Grijalva said. “Polluters shouldn’t be allowed to waste valuable public resources or harm our planet and our public health without consequence. I’m proud to co-lead this amicus brief alongside dedicated House and Senate colleagues who have steadfastly advocated strong methane regulations, and I’m confident the plaintiffs in this case will prevail.” 

The amicus brief, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, challenges the Trump administration’s gutting of the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. Under the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, the government is required to prevent unnecessary waste of oil and gas resources on federal and Tribal lands. In the brief, the lawmakers argue that Interior’s revised rule violates the Mineral Leasing Act by authorizing practices known to waste tax payer-owned resources and harm the public interest. 

The 2016 methane waste prevention rule was designed to limit leaking, venting, and flaring from natural gas operations on federal and Tribal lands – wasteful practices that unnecessarily release methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and other dangerous pollutants into the air and waste hundreds of millions in taxpayer-owned resources every year. The Trump administration, however, gutted this common-sense rule and replaced it with a rule that authorizes wasting public resources and damage to the environment. Every year, an estimated $330 million of natural gas is wasted by the oil and gas industry from operations on public and Tribal lands.

In 2018, the BLM revised the 2016 rule with a rule entitled Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties and Resource Conservation; Rescission or Revision of Certain Requirements. The revised rule removed waste minimization plans, well drilling and completion requirements, pneumatic controller and diaphragm pump requirements, storage vessels requirements, and leak detection and repair requirements from the 2016 rule. The gas-capture requirement was modified to allow BLM to defer to State or Tribal regulations in determining when the flaring of associated gas from oil wells will be royalty-free. Modifications were also made to the downhole well maintenance and liquids unloading requirements and to the measuring and reporting volumes of gas vented and flared.

Udall has long fought to protect and preserve BLM’s methane waste prevention rule. In 2017, Udall led the successful effort in the Senate to defeat an attempt to overturn the rule using the Congressional Review Act.

A copy of the full amicus brief can be found HERE.