Cantwell Challenges Zinke’s Decision To Roll Back Rule That Prevents Waste And Saves Taxpayers Money

Washington, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, made the following statement regarding the Department of the Interior’s decision to roll back the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) Methane and Waste Prevention Rule.  

"Even though Congress has already rejected an attack on the Obama-era methane rule, Secretary Zinke has ignored Congressional intent and moved forward with this ill-advised scheme anyway. If this new rule is implemented, companies will be able to waste millions of dollars in taxpayer resources by releasing 180,000 tons of methane pollution per year into our air,” said Senator Cantwell.  

The 2016 Obama Methane and Waste Prevention Rule followed through on BLM’s legal responsibility to prevent the waste of valuable taxpayer resources. From 2009 to 2015 alone, 462 billion cubic feet of federal natural gas was wasted – enough to serve 6.2 million households for a year. 

In addition, GAO found in 2010 that taxpayers and states lose as much as $23 million in annual royalty revenue due to wasted natural gas – and that about 40% of wasted natural gas on federal onshore leases could be economically captured with existing technology. 

The 2016 rule took advantage of available technologies to rein in waste of federal natural gas supplies, reduce harmful air pollution, and provide a fair return on public resources for federal taxpayers, tribes, and states. Other benefits included:

  • Reducing methane emissions by about 180,000 tons per year. This is equivalent to removing about 950,000 vehicles from the roads or retiring a large coal-fired power plant. 
  • Modernizing BLM’s almost forty-year-old methane regulations to address changing technologies and increased oil and gas development on federal lands. From 2005 to 2014 alone, the number of applications BLM received under the 1979 rule to vent or flare gas increased 2,500%.

In May 2017, Senator Cantwell led the successful effort to save the BLM Methane Waste Prevention Rule from repeal through the Congressional Review Act. "We've had an explosion of natural gas and oil production in the last ten years. Making sure we update and keep in place a rule to adequately regulate the production of this resource, while cutting down on needless waste, is critically important,” said Senator Cantwell after the Senate voted to prevent the use of a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to repeal the BLM Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. “Special interests in Washington tried to override this common-sense rule, and today we stopped them in their tracks."

Despite the May 2017 Senate vote, the Trump administration has made numerous attempts to repeal the Methane Rule, prompting Senator Cantwell to lead a June 2017 letter to Secretary Zinke questioning the Department of the Interior’s decision to suspend parts BLM Methane and Waste Prevention Rule. In a July 2017 letter to President Trump, Senate Cantwell urged him to reverse dangerous decisions by his administration to suspend the BLM and EPA methane rules. 

On November 2, 2017, Senator Cantwell led a bicameral group of 81 lawmakers in urging Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke not to suspend or unlawfully delay implementation of the BLM’s methane waste prevention rule. The lawmakers disputed the department's stated rationale for attempting to repeal the rule and requested public hearings and an extension on the public comment period regarding any changes to the rule.

Earlier this year, following the District Court of California ruling that BLM must immediately implement the 2016 Methane Waste Prevention Rule. Senator Cantwell said “Secretary Zinke and President Trump may think they are above the law, but yesterday’s ruling on the BLM methane waste prevention rule makes it crystal clear they are not. Instead of wasting more taxpayer dollars on this ill-advised crusade, the administration must immediately start implementing this rule, protecting the public from unhealthy methane pollution and saving the American people money.”