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States Sue Over Trump Administration Methane Regulation Rollback

Methane flaring.
WildEarth Guardians (CC-BY-NC-ND-2)
Methane flaring.

Tuesday, two states announced they’re suing the Trump administration just hours after it announced sweeping rollbacks of Obama-era regulations on methane pollution from oil and gas production.

Attorneys general from California and New Mexico filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Court in California over the rule revision just hours after it was announced by the U.S. Interior Department.

Interior said the revisions would replace a 2016 rule that required oil and gas producers on federal public and tribal land to capture methane instead of venting and flaring it, and address preventable leaks.

Methane gas is a key contributor to climate change.

The Trump administration has repeatedly proposed revisions to rescind those requirements, saying they posed an unnecessary regulatory burden on producers and doubled up on existing state-level and tribal policies.

David Bernhardt, Deputy Interior Secretary, said on a press call that Tuesday’s final venting and flaring rule revisions address feedback received from the public and court challenges.

"We're for clean air and water, but at the same time, we're for reasonable regulation," Bernhardt said.

Bernhardt and other Interior officials were unable to say how much the new rule would reduce methane emissions.

The Associated Press reports the prior methane regulation would have cut emissions by up to 180,000 tons a year. The revision would eliminate almost all of an estimated $1.5 billion in costs over 10 years that companies faced to comply under the Obama-era regulation.

Some states and environmental groups say the revision weakens key protections to air quality and allows companies to burn off methane that could provide royalties to the U.S. Treasury and taxpayers.

Sue Beug is a member of the Northern Plains Resource Council, a Billings-based conservation and family agriculture organization.

"Methane is a gas and doesn't stay within state boundaries," Beug says. "So, it really needs federal rules that go across state lines."

The new Waste Prevention Rule is slated to go into effect 60 days after its publication in the Federal Register, which is forthcoming.

This story was updated 09/18/18 at 6:32 p.m. to add details about the lawsuit.

Nicky is MTPR's Flathead-area reporter.
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