In the coming days, members of the U.S. Senate will have the opportunity to do something substantial to rein in federal overreach. They will have the chance to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) methane venting and flaring rule. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted 221 to 191 to overturn the rule. Now it’s up to the Senate.
The BLM rule was set in motion in the waning days of President Barack Obama’s administration to minimize venting and flaring of natural gas on federal and Indian lands. But the rule is a classic case of a federal agency overstepping. It is redundant, as states have rules in place that minimize methane emissions, and industry has deployed technologies to reduce emissions. In many cases, BLM’s rule conflicts with these effective state regulations. BLM also does not have the authority to implement this rule. Congress delegated regulation of the nation’s air quality specifically to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), not BLM.
Because natural gas is mostly methane, capturing methane is already in the best interest of every oil and gas producer. In fact, industry investments and existing state regulations have reduced methane emissions, while also allowing oil and gas production to reach near record levels. EPA’s latest data show methane emissions from petroleum systems have declined by 17 percent since 2011, primarily due to “decreases in emissions from associated gas venting and flaring.”
BLM’s rule would impose an enormous cost on taxpayers and the broader economy. A recent economic analysis found that the rule would eliminate thousands of jobs, impose costs of just under $1 billion annually, and eliminate about $114 million annually in federal and state taxes.
Community leaders in the West are already bracing for the negative impact, explaining that important projects that depend on oil and gas revenues will take a hit. New Mexico Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn recently said about the rule:
“New Mexico is currently faced with a severe budget deficit, and the implementation of this rule could not come at a worse time for states such as ours that are heavily reliant on oil and gas production for a balanced budget.” (emphasis added.)
It’s no surprise that several state chambers of commerce – including North Dakota, Arizona, and Nebraska – sent a letter to Congress urging lawmakers to repeal the rule:
“BLM’s 11th hour regulatory action imposes costly and prescriptive requirements on oil and natural gas production that will make energy development uneconomical in many areas […]Ultimately, this regulation handcuffs the energy revolution, makes us more dependent on foreign sources of energy, and translates to higher costs for families and businesses.”
The American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI) also opposes this redundant rule, while pointing to the fact that less energy production will harm businesses like theirs that require reliable, affordable energy:
“AISI has consistently expressed concerns that the rule would limit the production of domestic oil and natural gas, which would have negative effects on energy intensive industries, including steel manufacturers.”
Meanwhile, the Southern Ute Indian Tribe wrote directly to Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, explaining:
“[[T]he rule creates a regulatory conflict between the BLM and the U.S. EPA […] [it] fails to take into account the cost of compliance versus the production value of some wells, which often can result in net royalty loss to the public and the Tribe.”
There’s no question this duplicative rule would result in fewer jobs, less energy security and reduced tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments.
Improving the federal regulatory process is absolutely essential to the continued growth and competitiveness of our economy. No one disputes that reasonable regulations help protect public health, safety, and the environment. But when federal bureaucrats overstep, Congress – through the Congressional Review Act – must act to rein in the Executive Branch.
The Senate should follow the lead of the House and vote to repeal this redundant and costly rule.