In the coming weeks, Congress could turn back the clock to 1979, locking us into a future that allows almost $400 million worth of natural gas to be wasted on federal lands every year.
The country can’t afford to waste gas—we need it to heat our homes, cook our food, and power our industries. But if lawmakers on Capitol Hill rush to judgment, throwing away the good parts of a new rule with the bad, natural gas will continue to go up in flames.
Congress is allowed to repeal new rules from the previous administration thanks to a rarely-used law known as the Congressional Review Act, or CRA. But the CRA not only allows Congress to repeal a rule, it also stipulates that if a rule is repealed, the agency cannot issue a similar rule. Congress is now considering using the CRA to repeal a rule issued by the Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, that will reduce the waste of natural gas on federal lands.
This at a time when the problem of lost gas is growing. The total amount of natural gas flared from BLM-administered leases doubled from 2009 to 2013. That’s because until the new rule, oil and gas operations on federal lands were overseen by a six-page notice written almost four decades ago. With the advent of modern techniques like hydraulic fracturing, the industry has grown exponentially and the old rules have not kept pace.
Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) summed it up nicely: “I think the CRA approach to this particular issue is heavy-handed because if you do away with this regulation, you can’t have a similar one.” Graham hit the nail on the head. Using a blunt, one-size-fits-all solution like the CRA would foreclose any changes to the rule that could improve it.
You don’t have to agree with everything in the new rule, or take a position on all of it to see why it would be a mistake to blow up the methane waste rule, as the Senate is now considering. Even if members of Congress oppose the BLM’s methane waste rule, the more responsible thing to do would be to explore ways to further improve BLM’s ability to manage oil and gas resources. Simply shooting down this waste rule will lead to more waste, and taxpayers will be left holding the bag.
There is still time for cooler heads to prevail. The Trump Administration and new Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke are already reviewing the methane waste rule. It is well within their power to proceed with an overhaul of the rule without Congress using the CRA. But if the CRA is used, options to limit waste and get taxpayers a fair return could be lost.
The Department of the Interior and Senators Dean Heller and Catherine Cortez Masto can work together to bring in more revenue for the federal and state coffers and stop the waste. That will be a victory for taxpayers, the citizens of Nevada, and the entire country.