AG Balderas Announces Victory in Lawsuit

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Santa Fe, NM– Attorney General Hector Balderas announced that the State of New Mexico, along with California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and the California Air Resources Board prevailed in their lawsuit challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to repeal the Waste Prevention Rule, a commonsense measure to reduce the enormous waste of natural gas on public lands. The rule requires oil and natural gas producers to take cost-effective measures to cut the wasteful leakage of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, on federal and tribal lands. Nearly 35 % of New Mexico is federally administered, and the state contains the second highest area of federal land leased for oil and gas production – more than four million acres –  producing almost 900 million mcf of natural gas in 2018.

“Methane waste not only damages our environment, but deprives New Mexico schools of millions of dollars in lost royalties they are owed from oil and gas production,” said Attorney General Balderas. “My office will continue to protect these interests and hold this administration accountable for breaking the law.”

Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California vacates the repeal effective 90 days from the decision and puts BLM on a path toward reinstatement of the Waste Prevention Rule. In the decision, the court ruled that the repeal violated the National Environmental Policy Act, was arbitrary and capricious, and contrary to the BLM’s statutory mandate to ensure the safe and responsible development of oil and gas on public lands. The court found that, far from fulfilling its duty to provide a reasoned explanation for its abrupt reversal and to comply with its obligations under NEPA to thoughtfully and thoroughly consider  impacts on the environment, BLM had “simply engineered a process to ensure a preordained conclusion.”

The Waste Prevention Rule was finalized by Bureau of Land Management (BLM) on November 18, 2016, and went into effect on January 17, 2017. The Rule applies new standards that require increased inspections to prevent leaks, prohibit venting, and phase out routine flaring. It also assesses royalties on the gas that operators allow to escape into the atmosphere, half of which are allocated to states. The Rule has significant environmental benefits, including the elimination of 175,000 tons of methane emissions annually – the equivalent of over 3 million passenger vehicles driving for one year. It would also save and put to use 41 billion cubic feet of natural gas, enough to serve over 554,000 homes for a year and generate up to $14 million in additional royalties.

The victory prevents the third unsuccessful attempt by the Trump Administration to weaken or repeal the Waste Prevention Rule. After Attorneys General Balderas and Becerra filed a lawsuit in July 2017 challenging a BLM notice delaying key requirements of the Waste Prevention Rule, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ordered the Trump Administration to immediately implement the rule. The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California also granted an injunction preventing a notice to suspend key requirements after Attorneys General Balderas, Becerra, and CARB filed a lawsuit challenging the notice in December 2017. The court found that the Trump Administration had failed to offer any reasoned explanation for its action, putting the Rule back into effect.

A copy of the court’s order is attached.

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