The Bureau of Land Management is charged with ensuring a fair return to taxpayers and minimizing waste from the development of natural resources on federal lands.
In response to the growing problem of natural gas being vented and flared from federal lands, it undertook a five-year rule-making to curtail lost gas and clarify when it should be subject to a royalty payment to taxpayers. Congress is now considering a repeal of this rule under the Congressional Review Act. This would be a mistake.
Since it was signed into law in 1994, the Congressional Review Act has been used only once, to repeal an ergonomics rule from the Clinton administration. One reason it has been seldom used is that it is a blunt instrument that stipulates no similar rule can be adopted, ever, unless Congress passes new legislation allowing it, which is unlikely. No similar ergonomics rule has ever been adopted.
While some in industry may cheer the prospect of a similar outcome, taking the BLM out of the waste-prevention game is going to make the problem worse. And it is a problem. The original guidance on venting and flaring is more than 30 years old. The amount of lost gas doubled from 2009 to 2013, worth millions every year. As production continues to expand, the antiquated guidelines will fall further behind. If Congress repeals the new rule, the old ones will become effectively permanent.
Opponents of the rule argue it is regulatory overreach and have sued in federal court. If they are right, the court will strike the rule down. This is why we have judicial review. The answer to possible administrative overreach is not congressional overreach. While repealing an Obama administration rule would be a political victory for the new Congress, taxpayers and the Treasury will be paying the price.
Ryan Alexander is president of Taxpayers for Common Sense in Washington, D.C.