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Groups Trying To Save BLM Methane Rule Have Close Ties To ‘Keep It In The Ground’ Campaign

Environmental activist groups are pulling out all the stops to save the Obama administration’s last-minute “venting and flaring” rule, which targets oil and natural gas development on federal lands. Unfortunately for them, however, that means shining a spotlight on their real agenda and who pays for it.

The rule, finalized by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) two months before President Barack Obama left office, is opposed by state, tribal, business and local leaders across the West. Critics of the midnight regulation include New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez (R), Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R), North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum (R) and Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead (R). The attorneys general of three states – Montana Wyoming and North Dakota – are trying to overturn the rule in court. Western Energy Alliance, a supporter of Western Wire, is also involved in the legal challenge and efforts to repeal the rule in Congress.

Other opponents include the Southern Ute Indian Tribe, Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry, Colorado Business Roundtable, the Greater North Dakota Chamber, the Grand Junction, Colo. Chamber of Commerce  and Club 20, a coalition of local governments, tribes, businesses and citizens from Colorado’s Western Slope.

The list of opponents even includes business groups in the Midwest and Appalachia, who are concerned about the rule’s impact on the national economy. Chambers of commerce in Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, Kentucky and Pennsylvania all supported a U.S. House vote last month to repeal the venting and flaring rule. The repeal measure – a disapproval motion under the Congressional Review Act – is now before the U.S. Senate.

The venting and flaring rule purportedly targets methane emissions. But opponents of the rule say existing state and federal regulations and industry practices are already doing the job, cutting methane emissions 21 percent below 1990 levels despite large increases in oil and natural gas production.  If the BLM piles on with another set of regulations, they argue, the extra red tape and additional costs will block many wells from being drilled and force others to prematurely shut down, cutting domestic oil and gas production and royalty revenues for federal, state and local governments.

Flickr / Earthworks

Against this chorus of criticism, environmental activists have cobbled together a much smaller coalition to defend the venting and flaring rule. According to a news story in The Hill this week, the resistance includes “a group of local officials from Western states,” a reference to the newly established Western Leaders Network (WLN).  But the leaders of WLN have close ties to the anti-oil and gas groups Earthworks and the San Juan Citizens Alliance (SJCA). Together, these groups have admitted to waging a “war on fracking” and using “street fight” tactics to make oil and gas “as difficult as possible to develop.”

But as the Senate debate over the venting and flaring rule enters a critical phase, another activist group is seeking attention from lawmakers and the press – the Western Values Project (WVP).

“This rule unites people who care about a traditional set of issues related to air quality, but also people who don’t want to see the American government waste resources and tax dollars,” WVP executive director Chris Saeger told The Hill. “The story that we’re continuing to tell is one that has appeal to people on both sides of the aisle.”

But make no mistake – WVP doesn’t want to see more natural gas produced, captured and sold, or more revenue generated from energy development on federal lands.

WVP is a project of the New Venture Fund (NVF), a $230 million foundation based in Washington, D.C. The chairman of NVF, Eric Kessler, is a key figure in the divestment campaign against fossil fuels and his foundation is a huge financial supporter of “keep it in the ground” activism. According to recent financial statements, NVF funneled more than $3 million to 350.org, the Natural Resources Defense CouncilOil Change InternationalSierra Club and The Solutions Project alone between 2013 and 2015.

These groups are stridently opposed to fossil fuel production and want an immediate halt to oil and natural gas leasing on federal lands. But in the meantime, “keep it in the ground” activists have called the BLM’s venting and flaring rule “a positive step” toward that goal.

Obviously, environmental lobby groups like WLN and WVP are telling a very different story on Capitol Hill today. They want senators to believe the BLM’s methane regulation will result in more energy production, not less. And they’re claiming the environmental lobby has more support in the West than the governors, attorneys general and other representatives from the region who have criticized the venting and flaring rule as another case of federal overreach during the Obama years.

The activists are free to tell any story they want, of course, under their First Amendment rights of free speech and petition. But that doesn’t make their story true.

Simon Lomax is the managing editor of Western Wire. A former wire-service and trade-press reporter, he now works in Denver as an adviser to pro-energy and free market groups.



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