Coalition of conservation, tribal citizen groups has filed legal challenges

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FARMINGTON — New Mexico’s attorney general and some New Mexico stakeholders are suing the Trump administration over the Bureau of Land Management’s most recent delay of the methane emissions reduction rule.

New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas joins Xavier Becerra, California’s attorney general, in the lawsuit regarding the delay of the rule. The challenges by Balderas and a coalition of New Mexicans have been filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.

Balderas said the methane emission reduction rule acts as “an important safeguard for taxpayers and (New Mexico) communities” that “ensures that we get a fair return on shared natural resources."

“We are hoping to prevent methane waste and restore some transparence and accountability at the federal level,” Balderas said during a press conference call today. “Quite frankly, Secretary (of the Interior Ryan) Zinke’s action to suspend the BLM methane rule is not only short sighted, but ignores strong local and national support for curbing methane waste.”

The methane rule was published in November 2016 “in response to oversight reviews and a recognition of increased flaring from federal and Indian lands,” according to the Federal Register. It aims to reduce the waste of natural gas from venting, flaring and leaks during oil and natural gas production on federal and tribal lands.

Initial implementation of the rule began in January with plans for it to be fully implemented in January 2018. However, President Donald Trump issued executive orders in January and March calling for a review and a delay of the rule, respectively. The BLM announced an 18-month delay on Oct. 5, but the rule was reinstated by a federal judge on the same day.

The BLM announced a temporary suspension of the rule on Dec. 7, delaying the rule until January 2019 so the federal government can review the rule, which critics claim burdens natural gas producers with unnecessary costs.

A coalition of conservation and tribal citizens groups has filed a legal challenge regarding the methane rule, according to Peter Zazal, special projects director and lead attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, a New York City-based environmental advocacy nonprofit.

Aztec City Commissioner Katee McClure said small towns like Aztec “are really adversely affected financially” by the delay because methane gas that is lost via venting, flaring and leaks would be charged royalties, which fill state coffers and make a difference in small communities.

“Suspending this rule undermines all of the taxpayers here and the communities by denying us those revenues,” McClure said. “It would help, especially my town, with critical infrastructure projects, like roads — (for example,) a bypass we have going through town to save our main street — and the much-needed funding for school programs.”

Sam Dee, a member of the Navajo Nation's Red Mesa Chapter who worked for 40 years as a foreman and field supervisor in the oil and gas industry, said the delay is “deeply disappointing” and called upon tribal, state and federal leadership to include tribal groups and citizens in the conversation.

“We need our leaders in the Navajo Nation and Washington to stand up and fulfill their entrusted responsibility to consult the individual mineral owners — instead of undermining and working to strip away protections from tribes and their members — in suspending these safeguards,” Dee said.

Don Schreiber, owner of the Devil’s Spring Ranch in the San Juan Basin and member of the Western Leaders Network board, also spoke in opposition of the delay, which means methane emissions “will continue to threaten our health and well-being here and (for) all rural families across New Mexico.”

Megan Petersen covers business and education for The Daily Times. Reach her at 505-564-4621 or mpetersen@daily-times.com.

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