EDF, Partners Ask Court to Block Unlawful Suspension of BLM’s Natural Gas Waste Prevention Standards

Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) and 16 other national, tribal and local public health and conservation groups are asking a federal court to block Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s suspension of standards that would prevent the substantial waste of natural gas on public and tribal lands.

The groups filed a motion for summary judgment last night with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, arguing that Secretary Zinke’s abrupt decision to indefinitely delay the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) standards – without seeking public input or assessing the consequences – should be declared invalid because it was not authorized under the law.

“Secretary Zinke suspended these vital standards without any notice, without opportunity for public input, and without considering the harmful impacts his suspension would have on the public. The law gives him no authority to do so,” said EDF Lead Attorney Peter Zalzal. “BLM’s standards use common sense technologies and best practices to reduce the waste of a valuable public asset and protect American families from harmful air pollution. They are firmly grounded in BLM’s legal authorities and Secretary Zinke should not be allowed to bypass all legal safeguards to unilaterally suspend them.”

On June 14, BLM announced it was suspending its natural gas waste prevention standards. Those standards would limit the amount of valuable natural gas that oil and gas companies can leak, vent, or flare on millions of acres of federal and tribal lands – a problem that results in harmful air pollution and costs taxpayers millions of dollars. BLM estimates that federal oil and gas lessees vented or flared more than 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas on public and tribal lands between 2009 and 2015 — enough gas to serve over 6.2 million homes for a year.

BLM’s standards incorporate practical and highly cost-effective measures to reduce waste and air pollution. Those measures have been successfully deployed by leading oil and gas companies, and are required in major energy-producing states like Colorado and Wyoming.

Secretary Zinke suspended the standards even though previous attempts to delay them were rejected by both Congress and the courts.

Opponents of the standards asked a federal district court in Wyoming for a preliminary injunction, which would have put the standards on hold. In January, the court denied that request, concluding that the standards’ challengers had not demonstrated that they were likely to succeed on the merits of their challenge or that they would be irreparably harmed by the standards. At BLM’s request, further briefing on that challenge has been delayed for 90 days. (EDF is a party to the case).

Opponents in Congress attempted to repeal the standards using the Congressional Review Act, but a bipartisan majority in the Senate voted against that attempt.

Secretary Zinke has now suspended the standards even though more than 70 percent of voters nationwide support BLM’s natural gas waste standards, which were adopted to address the $330 million worth of the public’s natural gas that is wasted each year.

The Attorneys General of California and New Mexico filed a legal challenge to the suspension shortly after it was announced. That challenge was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. The same Attorneys General also filed a motion for summary judgment this week in the same court.

EDF and its partners have also filed a legal challenge to the suspension of the standards with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

The latest motion was filed by the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, National Wildlife Federation, Natural Resources Defense Council, Wilderness Society, Citizens for a Healthy Community, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthworks, Environmental Law and Policy Center, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, Montana Environmental Information Center, San Juan Citizens Alliance, Western Organization of Resource Councils, Wilderness Workshop, WildEarth Guardians, and Wyoming Outdoor Council, along with EDF.

You can find more information – including all legal documents – on EDF’s website.

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