A federal judge in California has found that the Bureau of Land Management’s process for largely revoking an Obama administration rule created to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas development on federal land was “wholly inadequate,” and ordered the reimplementation of the 2016 rule.
Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, with the U.S. District Court Northern District of California, this week found in a 57-page ruling that the BLM under the Trump administration “systematically ignored the basics of rulemaking and steamrolled” over federal laws “to advance certain special interests” in rolling back the 2016 measure.
“Such conduct should not be condoned,” she wrote in her ruling.
Rogers stayed her order vacating the BLM action and reimplementing its 2016 rule for 90 days to allow for parties to return to federal court in Wyoming to consider related litigation in light of her ruling.
The 2016 rule sought to reduce venting and flaring of methane in oil and gas development on federal lands and impose other requirements such as for leak detection and repair. The measure was designed in part to result in more natural gas being recovered and sold, increasing federal royalty revenue. Additionally, the measure would reduce the climate-change impacts from methane emissions and cut down on the emissions of air pollutants hazardous to human health.
The BLM under the Trump administration largely rescinded the rule, saying in part that it was overly burdensome for industry. It also cited the existence of state-level regulations limiting methane emissions in states including Colorado.
However, Rogers found that the agency violated the law by failing to provide a reasoned explanation for disregarding the facts and circumstances underlying the 2016 rule and abruptly reversing it. It also failed to consider the environmental and public-health impacts of its action as required by federal law, she found.
“Instead, in its zeal, BLM simply engineered a process to ensure a preordained conclusion,” she wrote.
Rogers listed Grand Junction, now the home of the new BLM national headquarters, as being among population centers near significant oil and gas activity and having the potential to be impacted by emissions.
Citizens for a Healthy Community, based in Paonia, is a party to the case. Natasha Léger, its executive director, said that the BLM “asks the public to trust that it is following the laws and acting in the best interests of the public interest. This scathing opinion just shows how the agency, especially under this administration, cannot be trusted. This is an enormous victory for public accountability and the rule of law.”
BLM spokesman Derrick Henry said the agency completely disagrees with the ruling.
“Our common-sense deregulatory actions were lawful and based on the best available science. The Department (of Interior) will continue to implement President Trump’s agenda to create more American jobs, protect the safety of American workers, support domestic energy production and conserve our environment,” he said.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance industry group, another party in the case, said Rogers lacks experience in federal oil and gas issues, and failed to follow well-established legal precedent that courts shouldn’t substitute their judgment for that of subject-matter experts in federal agencies.
“This ruling is very vulnerable on appeal,” said Sgamma, adding that her organization has options in the Wyoming federal court as well.