Prioritizing industrial development over public and environmental health, two federal agencies seek to reverse course on methane standards that would improve air quality, benefit taxpayers and reduce climate change affecting national parks.
Methane is a powerful pollutant that speeds the warming of our climate. It also contributes to other air quality problems such as smog and ground-level ozone that obscure park views and can threaten human health. Oil and gas facilities release billions of cubic feet of this pollutant into the atmosphere every year, wasting energy and money.
- March 2014 – White House releases Climate Action Plan, including guidance on reducing methane waste.
- Spring 2015 – Both the EPA and the BLM begin crafting new standards to prevent methane waste from oil and gas facilities.
- Late 2015 and early 2016 – NPCA works with partner groups to submit technical comments improving and supporting the BLM and EPA rulemaking processes. NPCA members send more than 17,000 comments to let the administration know that methane rules are important.
- May 2016 – The EPA finalizes its New Source Performance Standards to help reduce methane emissions.
- January 2017 – The BLM finalizes its Methane Waste Prevention rule.
- March 2017 – The Trump administration announces that it is looking at whether to “suspend, revise or rescind” the BLM rules.
- May 2017 – Congress attempts to repeal the BLM methane rule, but fails due to opposition from NPCA and others.
Two federal agencies — the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) — finalized standards in 2016 to help keep methane out of the air after extensive public processes. However, the Trump administration is working to repeal both of them, putting national parks at risk. The final standards not only compel oil and gas companies to contain more of the methane they produce, they also allow the public to collect royalties on the gas instead of releasing it into the atmosphere.
NPCA and its supporters have been involved all along the way. We encouraged the Obama administration to include strong provisions to protect park air. We pushed back against members of Congress when they tried to repeal the BLM rules, and we won. NPCA supporters sent more than 17,000 comments in support of these rules, which represent years of work to benefit public health and national parks.
Almost immediately after Congress upheld these important rules, however, the Trump administration sought to undermine and weaken them.
The EPA — the government institution specifically charged with protecting public health and the environment — has proposed delaying implementation of its methane rules for two years, even as a federal court ruled that the agency does not have the authority to delay enforcement of these regulations. These rules would apply to new sources of pollution.
Meanwhile, the Bureau of Land Management, which has its own set of rules to limit the wasteful practices of venting and flaring methane on public lands, announced that it would begin a separate process to possibly “suspend, rescind or revise” its methane regulations. Neither agency is currently enforcing these important federal laws that are on the books.
What’s at Stake
Methane is the primary component of natural gas and can trap 84 times as much heat as carbon dioxide over a 20-year period. When methane is released into the atmosphere, it speeds climate change and harms national park air quality because it mixes with other pollutants like volatile organic compounds and nitrogen oxides to form unhealthy smog.
Climate change is one of the biggest threats facing our national parks. The glaciers in Glacier National Park are rapidly receding. Sea-level rise threatens hundreds of beloved coastal parks, including Everglades and Biscayne National Parks, and Cape Hatteras, Padre Island and Point Reyes National Seashores. Increasingly, strong storms and rising temperatures threaten unique landscapes and historic structures at parks across the country. We must work to reduce greenhouse gas emissions if we hope to minimize the impacts of climate change on national parks.
Threat to Taxpayers
Allowing methane to leak or burn off into the atmosphere wastes energy that should be earning royalties for the public. Oil and gas companies operating on federal and tribal lands alone are wasting an estimated $330 million nationwide each year through leaks, venting and flaring.
Any attempt to slow or dismantle either set of standards is a direct assault on our health and environment, and the future of our national parks. NPCA is continuing to demand that the federal government keep these commonsense rules intact — and enforce them. It’s not only responsible and appropriate to reduce waste, increase revenue and protect parks. It’s the law!
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