The Trump Administration Postpones Regulation on Methane and, Subsequently, Toxic Pollutants

By Yessenia Funes Jun 15, 2017

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) filed notice today (June 15) to postpone implementation of the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. The bureau adopted the rule last year under former President Barack Obama to reduce the venting, flaring and leaking of natural gas and, in turn, keep methane out of oil and gas drilling sites on federal and tribal lands.

Methane is a greenhouse gas that absorbs heat at nearly 30 times the rate as carbon dioxide. Though burning natural gas is seen as a “cleaner” alternative to coal combustion, natural gas releases high levels of methane during all parts of the process: production, processing and distribution.

The GOP-controlled Congress tried to get rid of the rule through a resolution, but the Senate rejected it in a 51-to-49 vote May 10. Now, the government’s executive branch is taking matters into its own hands with BLM’s announcement today.

As the federal agency states in its notice, industry groups like the Independent Petroleum Association of America and states such as North Dakota filed petitions for judicial review against the bureau for this rule late last year. BLM is now using this ongoing litigation, under the Administrative Procedures Act, to support its decision to postpone the rule’s compliance dates.

This suspension includes sections of the rule that haven’t yet taken effect, including requirements on reporting how much gas is vented and flared, as well as one for operators to properly capture the natural gas. However, fossil fuel operators are still required to submit a “waste minimization plan” with their applications, as this already took effect, according to BLM.

President Donald Trump and his administration have worked hard to repeal regulations on methane emissions. Just a couple days ago, on June 13, the EPA said it would hold off on improving performance standards for pumps at oil and gas drilling sites that would have reduced methane emissions. The pause on these regulations, the 2016 New Source Performance Standards, was originally 90 days. The EPA is now proposing two years.

While methane contributes to climate change, the burning of natural gas also emits volatile organic compounds like benzene that are dangerous to human health. Many of the communities that live near these sites are communities of color that already bear disproportionate health risks.