States, Groups Sue Feds in Methane Rule Redux

SAN FRANCISCO (CN) – California and a host of environmental groups sued the Trump administration Tuesday, asking a federal judge to again deny the government’s attempt to brush back air pollution laws for the oil industry.

The two complaints, filed by California and New Mexico’s attorneys general along with groups like Sierra Club and Center for Biological Diversity, accuse Trump and the Interior Department of protecting “big polluters” at the expense of the environment.

The lawsuits are a response to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Dec. 8 suspension of an Obama-era climate law which requires oil operations on federal land to prevent methane gas flaring. In May, the U.S. Senate voted 51 to 49 against considering a repeal of the law with three Republicans joining the majority.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said suspending the waste prevention rule will hamper the his state’s ongoing efforts to decrease air pollution in the Central Valley, infamous for having the most polluted air in the nation and home to the state’s booming fracking industry.

“By suspending the waste prevention rule, the Trump administration is effectively threatening the health of our families and our environment,” Becerra said in a statement. “The California Department of Justice won’t stand by and subscribe to this blatant violation of our laws.”

In October, a San Francisco judge rejected a similar attempt by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to postpone the methane flaring rule. U.S. Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte found the BLM failed to engage in any new analysis when it delayed the rule and focused solely on the rule’s costs without considering the benefits.

California, New Mexico and a coalition of environmental and tribal groups were also parties in the previous fight to stop the postponement.

The Trump administration quickly responded to the setback by announcing it was moving forward with a new order that would suspend the methane law until 2019. The administration’s latest attempt to rescind the law prompted Tuesday’s lawsuit by the Sierra Club and 12 other conservation groups.

“BLM’s methane rule would help fight climate change and protect our public lands and communities,” Sierra Club director Lena Moffitt said in a statement. “Undermining these protections is a slap in the face to the majority of Americans who support them, and to the many people who will breathe polluted air as a result.”

At issue is the waste prevention rule which requires oil and gas companies to upgrade equipment and increase monitoring for well leaks in order to curtail natural gas flaring. Critics say the flare-ups are needless, noisy and a direct contributor to smog

In their 35-page complaint, the environmental groups blasted Trump for pandering to the oil industry.

“Once again, when the oil and gas industry says ‘Jump,’ the Trump administration says ‘How high?’” said Meleah Geertsma, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council, in a statement.

The Interior Department did not immediately respond to a media request regarding the lawsuits.

When the bill was passed in 2016, the regulator estimated the rule would increase state royalties by $14 million and stop 41 billion cubic feet of natural gas and nearly half a million tons of methane and other pollutants from escaping into the air each year.

According to Becerra’s complaint, California produces about 15 million barrels of oil and 7 billion cubic feet of natural gas annually. The Golden State is home to nearly 8,000 oil and gas wells along with 600 oil and gas leases.

California has sued the Trump administration 24 times over its various climate change, immigration and health care decisions.

The lawsuits ask a federal judge in San Francisco to immediately reinstate the waste prevention rule.


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