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Environmental Groups Sue Over Venting/Flaring Rule

A coalition of 21 environmental and citizens' groups asked a federal district court in San Francisco to block the Trump administration's plans to rescind most of an Obama-era rule governing associated natural gas flaring and venting on public and tribal lands.

According to a complaint filed Friday in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, plans by the Department of Interior (DOI) to rescind and revise its Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule, aka the venting and flaring rule, are unlawful because they would revoke "reasonable protections designed to limit waste of natural gas by oil and gas companies on federal public and Indian lands..."

Under a final rule issued last month, DOI's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to rescind provisions of the Obama-era rule pertaining to waste minimization plans, gas-capture percentages, well drilling, well completion and related operations, pneumatic controllers, pneumatic diaphragm pumps, storage vessels, and leak detection and repair. For the remaining provisions, BLM said it plans to return to the regulatory environment that preceded the Obama-era rule when it came out in 2016.

"The Trump administration's action will imminently harm Americans by allowing substantial waste of natural gas that will result in lost money for taxpayers and additional air pollution that puts families at risk," said Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Lead Attorney Peter Zalzal. "We plan to vigorously challenge the administration's decision to eliminate the Waste Prevention Rule, which completely disregards these foundational public interests."

EDF filed the lawsuit with the Sierra Club; Los Padres ForestWatch; the Center for Biological Diversity; Earthworks; the Natural Resources Defense Council; The Wilderness Society; the National Wildlife Federation; Citizens for a Healthy Community; Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment; the Environmental Law and Policy Center; Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights; the Montana Environmental Information Center; San Juan Citizens Alliance; the Western Organization of Resource Councils; Wilderness Workshop; WildEarth Guardians; the Wyoming Outdoor Council; Earthjustice; the Clean Air Task Force, and the Western Environmental Law Center.

California Attorney General (AG) Xavier Becerra and New Mexico AG Hector Balderas filed a separate lawsuit with the same court shortly after DOI announced the rule.

In June, a three-judge panel of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver denied motions by California, New Mexico and a coalition of 16 environmental groups for a stay of the venting and flaring rule. The motions were filed in April following a ruling by Wyoming District Court Judge Scott Skavdahl. Skavdahl ruled that the phase-in provisions of the rule should be placed on hold to give BLM more time to ultimately revise or rescind the rule.

Environmental groups prevailed in the Northern District court last February, when Judge William Orrick rejected a proposed rule by the BLM to delay enforcement of parts of the venting and flaring rule until next January. The AGs for California and New Mexico were also parties to that lawsuit.

The Independent Petroleum Association of America and Western Energy Alliance filed a lawsuit against the rule in Wyoming district court in November 2016. Montana and Wyoming filed a separate lawsuit, and North Dakota and Texas subsequently joined as petitioners. The two lawsuits were combined at the end of November.

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