Washington — The Trump administration will postpone industry compliance with an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions from oil and gas wells on federal lands.
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An effort by congressional Republicans to repeal the methane rule failed in the Senate by one vote on May 10.
The methane rule, which was finalized in November by the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management, was challenged in court by several states and oil and gas industry groups.
In a notice to be published Thursday in the Federal Register, the BLM said certain portions of the rule will be postponed until the legal challenges are resolved.
"While the BLM believes the [methane rule] was properly promulgated, the petitioners have raised serious questions concerning the validity of certain provisions of the rule," the agency said in its notice. "Given this legal uncertainty, operators should not be required to expend substantial time and resources to comply with regulatory requirements that may prove short-lived as a result of pending litigation or the administrative review that is already under way."
The announcement was criticized by environmental groups and congressional Democrats.
"Once again, Donald Trump and [Interior Secretary] Ryan Zinke are showing where their priorities lie: the profits of corporate polluters above all else, including the health of our communities," said Lena Moffitt, a senior director with the Sierra Club. "BLM's methane rule would protect our public lands and communities, and it has already withstood legal challenges and an attempted repeal in Congress."
Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington, the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said by delaying the rule the Trump administration was breaking the law.
"Congress voted for people over polluters and the administration must respect that outcome," Cantwell said in a statement.
The BLM notice follows an announcement late Tuesday by the US Environmental Protection Agency that it has proposed extending its formal pause of an Obama-era rule aimed at limiting methane leaks from oil and natural gas operations.
"The agency is proposing a two-year stay of the fugitive emissions, pneumatic pump and professional engineer certification requirements in the rule while the agency reconsiders issues associated with these requirements," EPA said Tuesday. "Under the proposal, sources would not need to comply with these requirements while the stay is in effect."
On May 31, EPA paused the rule for 90 days, a decision criticized by the Natural Resources Defense Council as a "free pass" for the oil and gas industry to pollute the air. NRDC plans to challenge the delay in court.
Several oil and gas trade groups had requested that the June 2016 EPA rule be reconsidered. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt granted that request in April.
On March 28, President Donald Trump signed an executive order calling on all federal agencies to review regulations that could "burden" US energy development.
In addition to the EPA's pause on the methane rule, Pruitt in March withdrew an Obama administration request for information that would have been the basis for new methane emissions limits on existing oil and gas facilities.
--Brian Scheid, firstname.lastname@example.org
--Edited by Jason Lindquist, email@example.com