Western Senators Determined To Overturn ‘Unnecessary, Duplicative And Destructive’ BLM Rule
With the Senate potentially voting this week on a measure that will overturn a rule targeting oil and natural gas development on federal lands, Washington, D.C., media have reported that some key Western lawmakers remain on the fence. But follow-up inquiries by Western Wire tell a different story: There is strong support in the West for repealing the Obama administration’s last-minute “venting and flaring” rule.
The methane regulation, finalized by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) after the 2016 election, has been controversial in the region. Three states – Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota – have sued to stop the “venting and flaring” rule.
After the House passed a resolution under the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to overturn the rule, and as the measure now goes before the Senate, advocacy groups have targeted senators, including U.S. Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), in their campaign to “stop the reckless use of the CRA to kill this much-needed rule.”
But Sen. Flake “does support the CRA,” a spokesperson told Western Wire last week.
U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told the media on Friday that there is “tremendous” support for the resolution in Colorado. “You have some individuals who oppose it, but there is a lot of support for it,” he noted.
“There are people on both sides of this,” Gardner said. “A tremendous amount of people who live on the western slope of Colorado who are supportive of the resolution of disapproval — people in Grand Junction, Colo, the Grand Junction Chamber, the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, the Colorado Business Roundtable all support the resolution of disapproval.”
In a comment to Western Wire, Gardner also noted the primacy of state regulations over federal mandates. Referring to methane regulations Colorado developed in partnership with local stakeholders and industry, the senator touted Colorado’s “history of working out unique solutions tailor-made to meet the needs of our state” – solutions that will remain in effect even if the federal rule is overturned.
“If Congress passes the CRA on BLM’s rule, the state’s solution would remain in effect and serve as an example to other states of what can be achieved when states work to find answers that best fit the needs of local interests,” the senator continued.
“It is the job of the EPA and the states, not the Bureau of Land Management, to regulate air quality,” U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) said in a statement after introducing the Senate CRA resolution to block the rule on Jan. 30.
As Western Wire reported, Barrasso previously said that the rule “far exceeds the authority of the BLM” and “put federal lands at an even greater competitive disadvantage to state and private lands” during the Jan. 17 confirmation hearing for Interior Secretary-designate Ryan Zinke. Barrasso is also the chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
Backing the CRA resolution, Barrasso’s colleague U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) called the BLM rule “unnecessary, duplicative and destructive.”
“It is not only hurting this country by disrupting America’s energy production, but it’s hurting those folks whose livelihood is based on this industry,” Enzi said in a statement. “It’s hampering their ability to provide for their families and to support their community.”
The rule “duplicates state regulations already in place, expands bureaucracy, drives up costs and kills jobs in the process,” former U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis (R-Wyo.) wrote in a Jan. 3 letter to The Ranger newspaper in Fremont County, Wyo.
Congressional efforts to repeal the rule are also winning support from tribal and business leaders across the West, who are concerned about the economic impacts of reduced oil and gas production, a potential outcome of complying with the rule.
Existing regulations “already protect air quality,” Clement Frost, chairman of the Southern Ute Indian Tribe in southwest Colorado, told Western Wire. The Tribe develops oil and natural gas, and Frost explained that additional restrictions on production would threaten funding for essential services.
“The Tribe relies on revenues from Reservation energy development to fund important government services,” Frost said. “BLM’s rule is unnecessary and would further negatively impact the Tribe’s energy development revenue.”
Leading up to the House vote on the CRA resolution, New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R) urged House Speaker Paul Ryan (R) to support repealing the rule. “Absent a repeal, funding for New Mexico’s schools, roads and healthcare will be dramatically reduced on account of the reduction in revenue generated by the oil and gas industry,” she wrote in her Jan. 27 letter.
With the cost of complying with the rule running as high as $50,000 for each oil and natural gas well, complying “doesn’t make economic sense and so operators are now looking at shutting down these wells,” New Mexico Business Coalition president Carla Sonntag told reporters on a Jan. 27 conference call. “New Mexico can’t afford that,” she said.
Even businesses outside the oil and natural gas industry are concerned about potential ramifications of the rule.
The rule would “limit the production of domestic oil and natural gas, which would have negative effects on energy intensive industries, including steel manufacturers,” the American Iron and Steel Institute wrote in a Feb. 1 letter to the House.
The group, representing the nation’s steel manufacturers, is now calling on the Senate to support the resolution.
In a Feb. 8 letter obtained by Western Wire, the group said that repealing the rule would “help uphold the international competitiveness of the domestic steel industry by maintaining an affordable and reliable supply of electricity, and providing additional markets for key steel products.”
Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Texas) told reporters on Feb. 7 that said the Senate will “start doing some more CRAs” this week. Other CRA motions that may hit the Senate floor include a federal land planning policy that passed the House last Wednesday.