New Mexico AG Hector Balderas Joins California To Sue BLM Over Methane Rule
New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas joined fellow “Green 20” colleague, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, in filing a lawsuit Tuesday against the Trump administration and the Bureau of Land Management over the decision by the agency to suspend its waste prevention rule on methane emissions.
In a joint release Balderas, along with Becerra, called the decision to suspend the rule “arbitrary and capricious.” It’s the second lawsuit filed by Balderas and Becerra on the rule this year.
“It’s disappointing that the Attorney General continues to take marching orders from California politicians and out of state activist groups over the hard-working New Mexicans he claims to represent,” New Mexico Oil and Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre told Western Wire.
On December 8, BLM announced a one-year delay in implementing the rule until January 2019.
“The fact is oil and natural gas producers are innovating to help protect our environment and emissions are going down, without new expensive regulations from Washington, D.C.,” McEntyre said.
Balderas defended his decision during a press conference call, according to the Farmington Daily Times. “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.”
“Interior Secretary [Ryan] Zinke’s decision to suspend an overzealous methane rule was the right thing to do,” Carla Sonntag, President and founder of the New Mexico Business Coalition, told Western Wire.
“Unfortunately, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas has once again pandered to activists pursuing a ‘keep it in the ground’ agenda,” Sonntag said. “Wasting tax dollars on special interest lawsuits, like this one, is wrong for New Mexico. That money would be better spent protecting New Mexican families from rampant crime problems in our state.”
As Western Wire reported in September, Balderas’ lawsuits targeting the oil and gas industry, as well as ties to other Democratic attorneys general, including Becerra and other members of the “Green 20” led by New York’s Eric Schneiderman, has raised concerns in New Mexico’s business community.
Sonntag told Western Wire it doesn’t make sense for oil and gas producers to waste good product.
“Oil and gas company operators have absolutely no incentive to waste the very commodity they make a living producing. So what we’ve seen over the years is a proactive attempt to capture as much methane as possible – without being mandated by government,” Sonntag said.
“No surprise, it has worked effectively. New Mexico state regulators recently said that even with increased production, methane emissions have dropped by more than 50 percent,” she continued.
In early November, New Mexico Energy, Minerals and Natural Resources Department Secretary Ken McQueen told a panel of state lawmakers that methane emissions dropped more than 50 percent in just the last year, with “a very high compliance level” demonstrated by oil and gas operators.
A new report by Energy In Depth using data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Greenhouse Gas Reporting Program shows methane emissions declines in the San Juan and Permian basins in New Mexico over the past 6 years. San Juan Basin methane emissions fell 47 percent from 2011 to 2016. The state’s burgeoning Permian Basin saw methane emissions decrease 6.3 percent in the same time frame, while seeing oil and gas production more than double.
According to Sonntag, efforts for producer-led emissions reductions have seen the drops captured in the EPA data while also incentivizing further free market solutions instead of government regulations that will actually lead to increased emissions reductions and more revenues for the state.
“Suspending the unnecessary Obama-era methane rule will give producers time to do even more on their own – without government mandates. In fact, several major oil and gas producers have signed on to a national effort to curb methane emissions,” Sonntag said. “That is the free market taking care of itself and accomplishing a two-fold win for New Mexicans: 1) less methane emissions into the atmosphere; and 2) more methane captured which increases the companies’ profits and the state’s coffers.”
Seventeen environmental activist groups filed a separate lawsuit against BLM. The list of groups includes national organizations like the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Earthworks, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, The Wilderness Society, and National Wildlife Federation, as well as Colorado-based groups like Wilderness Workshop and the San Juan Citizens Alliance.
Both lawsuits were filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Don Schreiber told the Daily Times he opposed the delay, saying it “will continue to threaten our health and well-being here and (for) all rural families across New Mexico.” Schreiber, a Western Leaders Network (WLN) board member, accompanied La Plata County Commissioner Gwen Lachelt, WLN founder and director, in traveling to the nation’s capital to lobby against repealing the BLM methane rule in May.
Schreiber spoke with U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) on the rule in February, and attended a joint press conference with Lachelt, Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) before the Senate vote to repeal the rule. Lachelt’s dual role as elected official and non-profit activist stirred controversy in her home county.
Lachelt is a former employee of Earthworks and founded San Juan Citizens Alliance, both parties to the activist lawsuit.
“It doesn’t make sense to make companies comply with a rule that’s being substantially rewritten,” said Kathleen Sgamma, President of Western Energy Alliance, told the San Francisco Chronicle. According to her organization, methane emissions from oil and gas operations have dropped 19 percent since 1990, though natural gas production has soared 51 percent.
Western Wire is a project of Western Energy Alliance.