By Camilla Feibelman, 
Chapter director

Common-sense, climate-protecting methane rules have been targeted as the next victim of an obscure tool that President Trump and congressional Republicans have used to revoke stream protections and other air and water safeguards.

But the Sierra Club and our allies are building bipartisan opposition to this effort to appease the oil and gas industry at tragic cost.

You may already know that methane is a colorless, odorless substance that is also the main component of natural gas. It is also a potent global-warming gas that oil and gas drilling sites accidentally leak and intentionally vent and flare. The Obama administration proposed a comprehensive set of good-neighbor, job-creating, royalty-increasing rules, some of which have already taken effect.

Last year the Environmental Protection Agency finalized rules to capture methane on new and modified facilities. Later in the year, the Bureau of Land Management finalized rules for both existing and new sources on all public lands. To meet our Paris commitments, we’d hoped to see a third rule from the EPA finalized for existing sources that would not be limited to public lands. These three rules would have worked in concert not just to protect the climate but to prevent the outright waste of a publicly held natural resource. The following is an update from Lena Moffitt, native New Mexican and the Sierra Club’s national Dirty Fuels Campaign director:

“Unfortunately, our goal of securing EPA standards to curb methane pollution from existing sources in the oil and gas industry is now off the table.

Instead, we’ll now have to spend significant time and resources defending the rules we did secure from attacks in Congress and the courts.

The Congressional Review Act allows Congress to vote to revoke major regulations if the vote occurs within 60 days from when the rule was published in the federal register. That means the BLM rule could be voted on under the Congressional Review Act (as the rule was finalized in December). The BLM methane rule CRA was filed on January 30, with a vote expected in the Senate any time before late May.

If a rule is revoked by Congressional Review Act, agencies are permanently banned from creating “substantially similar” regulations.

We have been preparing for these fights for the past two years, with our lobbyists and state-based organizers activating the champions we have cultivated to stand strong and defend these rules. One testament to this organizing is a letter our senators, Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich, along with Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden, sent to their Senate colleagues in early January urging them to defend the BLM methane rule and vote no on any CRA attack.

The vote, if it happens, will be close, but if we are able to encourage Democrats to stand together and convince at least three Republicans to vote with us, we can win, and so far it seems that the votes aren’t there, so the CRA hasn’t been brought to a vote. But keeping the vote from happening requires strong grassroots pressure, direct inside-the-beltway advocacy, and robust coordination with the full environmental community.

Even if we are not successful in defending these rules, we must make these kinds of rollbacks as painful as possible for those seeking to undermine our country’s public health and environment. We must highlight the widespread support for these safeguards that we have built up over the past two years, and overwhelming support for clean air and clean water. Simply put, we can’t take this backward movement of our country lying down.

We will also defend the rules in court — we have already filed in defense of both the EPA and BLM rules against attacks from several states and industry groups. We just received a positive ruling denying the preliminary injunction that industry sought against the BLM rule, so that rule has been allowed to enter into force.

We will continue working with states, including New Mexico, to move forward with strong state-based existing-source standards.”

For instance, California proposed state rules covering existing methane sources in 2016, and we will work with them to continue their leadership by finalizing and implementing these rules. States like Pennsylvania are also considering existing-source rules for oil and gas production in the Keystone State, and even states like Wyoming and New Mexico are considering stronger rules.

We must also double down on our grassroots, locally based organizing, investing in our chapters and growing our movement of engaged citizens who are ready to demand renewed action to protect our climate and reduce pollution – this bottom-up movement building is critical now more than ever.

Featured image: Reporters film Earthwork’s Pete Drinkers with an infrared camera at one of the Four Corners sites that a NASA report found to be a ‘super-emitter’ of invisible methane gas. Photo by Miya King-Flaherty.

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