WASHINGTON (AP) - Attempts to reverse an Obama-era rule aimed at curbing methane emissions have cleared a critical hurdle, the Interior Department announced Monday.
The department says the Trump administration’s replacement rule will be entered into the Federal Register this week.
The methane rule has been at the center of multiple court battles and fierce debate in Congress. President Barack Obama finalized the rule, which limits methane emissions from oil and gas developers on federal land, in November 2016.
That same year, the Bureau of Land Management estimated the regulation would prevent as much as 180,000 tons of methane emissions annually or the equivalent of taking nearly 950,000 cars off the road.
The Trump administration’s Interior Department first attempted to formally roll the protection back last fall but failed when U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Laporte ruled the Interior Department was unable to provide a sufficient explanation for its decision to change the regulation.
“The rule’s purpose was to reduce waste of natural gas from venting, flaring and leaks during oil and natural gas production activities on onshore federal and Indian (other than Osage Tribe) leases … and also clarify when produced gas lost through venting, flaring or leaks is subject to royalties, and when oil and gas production may be used royalty free –onsite,” Laporte’s October order stated
As far back as 2014, the judge pointed out, the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, who was tasked with developing the rule, received response from the Government Accountability Office and the Interior’s Office of the Inspector General suggesting then-existing regulations over waste and royalties were “insufficient and outdated.”
Before the Obama-era rule was implemented, the BLM held multiple forums with residents in Colorado, New Mexico and North Dakota to discuss the regulation’s impact. The bureau received 330,000 public comments on the matter.
Once finalized, the states of Wyoming and Montana, and eventually North Dakota and Texas, challenged the rule in a Wyoming federal court.
The states plus an energy industry group, Western Energy Alliance, argued the Obama administration did not have the authority to regulate air pollution and considered the regulation “arbitrary and capricious.”
The challengers lost and the rule finally went into effect in January 2017.
Then in March, President Donald Trump issued an executive order offering instructions to each “executive agency to review all agency actions that … potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources and appropriately suspend, revise or rescind those that unduly burden the development of domestic energy resources beyond the degree necessary to protect the public interest or otherwise comply with the law.”
The order prompted newly-appointed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to delay the methane emissions rule through January 2019.
The Interior argued its decision to postpone its implementation was due to the exorbitant costs forced on energy developers and similar industry types.
Time to review the rule would help avoid tens of millions of dollars in compliance costs, the BLM said.
According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane, which is produced both naturally and through manmade efforts, accounts for roughly a quarter of all the manmade global warming the planet is currently experiencing.