Senate Democrats Urge President Trump to Implement Rules that Limit Natural Gas Waste and Safeguard Public Health

Suspending safety rules poses 'unwarranted' threat to public health, the taxpayers and energy security 

 

Action 'antithetical to the agency's core mission,' will result in children being exposed to harmful oil and gas well emissions for at least 2 more years in order to give the oil and gas industry a windfall

 

WASHINGTON – This week, led by U.S. Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.),  Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Senators Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), a group of 27 Senate Democrats urged President Trump to reverse dangerous decisions by his administration to suspend federal rules that protect air quality and prevent the waste of taxpayer-owned natural gas on federal and Tribal lands. 

 

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) last year implemented the commonsense standards, developed after years of deliberation and public and industry input, to prevent natural gas leaks and avoid unnecessary venting and flaring to save taxpayers tens of millions of dollars in royalties, create jobs, and fight climate change. This year, however, the Trump administration suspended the rules, claiming they were in need of further review.

 

In a letter to the president, the senators called the BLM and EPA decisions to suspend the rules "unwarranted," and said the action "will harm public health, taxpayers, and our energy security." 

 

"Suspending commonsense regulations to reduce waste and stop air pollution needlessly poses health and safety risks on children and our most vulnerable citizens," the senators wrote. "The BLM and EPA rules each rely on proven, widely available, and cost effective technologies to reduce leaking, venting, and flaring, and keep natural gas in production and in commerce rather than in the air. Delaying or revising these rules will only cause additional and unnecessary waste and result in substantial harm to communities across the country that will be exposed to dangerous air pollution. For the EPA to take action that will result in children being exposed to harmful oil and gas well emissions for at least two additional years in order to give the oil and gas industry a windfall is antithetical to the agency’s core mission." 

 

The EPA is legally obligated to enforce the rules based on a July ruling by the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, the senators wrote. "[The court] ruled that the EPA could not suspend the rules consistent with the Clean Air Act and new and modified oil and gas facilities must begin reducing methane emissions and other toxic air pollutants in accordance with the rules. The court noted that industry not only had ample opportunity to comment on the rule, but that the EPA had incorporated industry comments into the final rule."

 

The senators noted that the states of New Mexico and California raised similar objections to the BLM's decision to suspend the methane rule in a lawsuit filed against the agency earlier this month.

 

In their letter, the senators highlighted the success of the rules since their implementation. "Over the last several years, industry compliance with regulations limiting methane and other air pollutants by EPA, BLM, and several states has demonstrated that companies can cost effectively prevent the waste of important energy resources and reduce air pollution that threatens our communities and our climate." They cited a report by Reuters that indicated “13 of the 15 biggest U.S. oil and gas producers said that compliance with current regulations is not impacting their operations or their financial condition" and a report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows oil and gas industry employment has risen since the rules took effect. 

 

"Both the EPA and BLM rules are commonsense, cost effective requirements that direct the oil and gas industry to find and fix leaks, use up-to-date readily available equipment, and prevent waste of a natural resource -- saving taxpayers money while also reducing air pollution and protecting human health. These requirements drive innovation and increase jobs in the growing sector of methane detection and capture technologies," the lawmakers wrote. "We urge you to fully implement the EPA and BLM methane and air pollution regulations as legally required without delay and to keep these important protections for public health, American taxpayers, and our energy security in place."

 

In addition to Udall, Whitehouse, Schatz, Markey, Cantwell, and Bennet, the letter was signed by Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.),  Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Richard Durbin (D-Ill.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), and Tom Carper (D-Del.). The senators were among a group who in May defeated a Republican-led effort to repeal the BLM rules using the Congressional Review Act. 

 

 

The full letter can be found below and here. 

 

President Donald Trump

The White House

1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.

Washington, D.C. 20500

 

Dear Mr. President:

 

Last year, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) finalized rules to reduce methane wasted by the oil and natural gas sector on public lands and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized standards to reduce methane and other harmful air pollutants from new and modified oil and gas facilities nationwide. This month, these agencies each took actions to suspend these important safeguards. These actions are unwarranted and will harm public health, taxpayers, and our energy security.

 

The BLM and EPA rules were adopted after years of deliberation and numerous opportunities for public input. More than one million people weighed in supporting these agency efforts. 

 

On July 3, 2017, the District of Columbia Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA could not suspend the rules consistent with the Clean Air Act and new and modified oil and gas facilities must begin reducing methane emissions and other toxic air pollutants in accordance with the rules. The court noted that industry not only had ample opportunity to comment on the rule, but that the EPA had incorporated industry comments into the final rule. 

 

On July 5, 2017, the States of California and New Mexico have filed suit against BLM in the Northern District of California raising the same type of objections to BLM’s suspension of its methane rule. 

 

Earlier, on May 10, 2017, the U.S. Senate rejected an attempt under the Congressional Review Act to nullify BLM’s rule. That vote demonstrated that there is not support in Congress for rolling back these protections for our environment, American taxpayers, and public health. The American public broadly supports preventing the unnecessary waste of public resources, as required by the Mineral Leasing Act, and reducing air pollution associated with oil and gas development.

 

Suspending commonsense regulations to reduce waste and stop air pollution needlessly poses health and safety risks on children and our most vulnerable citizens. The BLM and EPA rules each rely on proven, widely available, and cost effective technologies to reduce leaking, venting, and flaring, and keep natural gas in production and in commerce rather than in the air. Delaying or revising these rules will only cause additional and unnecessary waste and result in substantial harm to communities across the country that will be exposed to dangerous air pollution. For the EPA to take action that will result in children being exposed to harmful oil and gas well emissions for at least two additional years in order to give the oil and gas industry a windfall is antithetical to the agency’s core mission. 

 

Over the last several years, industry compliance with regulations limiting methane and other air pollutants by EPA, BLM, and several states has demonstrated that companies can cost  effectively prevent the waste of important energy resources and reduce air pollution that threatens our communities and our climate. Reuters reviewed recent Security Exchange Commission filings and found that “13 of the 15 biggest U.S. oil and gas producers said that compliance with current regulations is not impacting their operations or their financial condition.” And, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, oil and gas industry employment has steadily increased since the rules took effect, even in the face of flat and declining oil prices. The Baker Hughes U.S. rig count identified over 900 land rigs in operation in June, 2017 -- up from 558 when the BLM rule was finalized in November, 2016, representing more than a 50% increase. 

 

Both the EPA and BLM rules are commonsense, cost effective requirements that direct the oil and gas industry to find and fix leaks, use up-to-date readily available equipment, and prevent waste of a natural resource -- saving taxpayers money while also reducing air pollution and protecting human health. These requirements drive innovation and increase jobs in the growing sector of methane detection and capture technologies. 

 

We urge you to fully implement the EPA and BLM methane and air pollution regulations as legally required without delay and to keep these important protections for public health, American taxpayers, and our energy security in place. 

 

Sincerely,

 

 

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