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Gov. Martinez urges repeal of federal methane waste rule

By February 2, 2017Methane

By Rebecca Moss | Santa Fe New Mexican
Gov. Susana Martinez is backing an effort by congressional Republicans to overturn a federal regulation meant to curb air and environmental pollution by limiting methane waste on public lands, saying the rule to reduce emissions of the gas threatens jobs and public funding of schools and roads.
Under the Congressional Review Act, the House began debate Wednesday on a number of Obama administration environmental regulations. At stake are a Bureau of Land Management regulation that limits the release of methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal land and an Interior Department rule that prevents coal mining operations from polluting nearby water sources.
The Republican-controlled House voted 228-194 to overturn the stream protection rule. A vote on the methane rule, enacted last year, is expected this week.
The House action is part of a broader GOP assault on environmental regulations that began with the inauguration of Republican President Donald Trump.
Democratic lawmakers oppose the repeal of the methane and stream rules, arguing they are necessary protections for the environment and public health.
In a letter dated Friday to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., Martinez called the methane-capture rule misguided.
“Royalties paid to state and federal governments will decrease, new development on federal lands will stagnate and jobs will be lost if the Venting and Flaring Rule is not repealed,” she wrote, saying it will harm funding for public schools, roads and health care.
The governor also boasted about her record of protecting the environment while promoting economic growth, saying the methane rule “fails to strike a sensible balance” in the same way she has.
Many environmental groups have objected to her policies, suing the administration for regulations they say are too lenient and fail to protect the environment, including for the copper mining and dairy industries.
Martinez’s political career has been bankrolled in large part by campaign donations from oil and gas companies and their executives.
Energy and natural resource interests contributed at least $2.4 million to her gubernatorial campaigns, according to the National Institute on Money in State Politics, which compiles state campaign finance data. Oil and gas interests also have contributed heavily to political action committees affiliated with Martinez and her inaugural committees.
Michael Lonergan, a spokesman for the Republican governor, said campaign contributions did not influence her support of the methane rule repeal.
Also opposing the methane rule are U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., and State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn, also a Republican.
Wally Drangmeister, a spokesman for the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, said the Environmental Protection Agency, not the BLM, should be monitoring methane emissions through an EPA rule.
“Do environmental groups and certain politicians with no experience in the private sector really believe the oil and gas industry is needlessly burning profits?” he asked, saying producers have every incentive to capture methane and that regulations are damaging to the industry.
Pearce echoed this sentiment in a written statement, saying the repeal would “ensure the production of reliable energy remains in America, saving good paying jobs for the people of Southern New Mexico.”
The move by Congress to repeal environmental regulations aligns with the Trump administration’s plan to widely roll back Obama administration regulations and open up public land for additional mineral extraction, including coal, oil and gas production.
On Jan 20., the day he took office, President Trump signed executive orders freezing all pending government regulations and requiring agencies to repeal two regulations for each new regulation created.
The BLM methane-capture rule, finalized in November, requires oil and gas producers on federal and tribal land to capture methane leaked or intentionally released during operations, install leak-capture technology and comply with increased inspections.
Methane is the most concentrated greenhouse gas in the first two decades after it is released, trapping heat in the atmosphere and accelerating climate change. Oil and gas production in the San Juan Basin, one of the state’s highest producing oil and gas regions, has played a significant role in creating a 2,500-square-mile cloud of methane — the largest concentration of the pollutant in the nation, according to a study by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Environmentalists and Democrats argue the financial benefits of the methane rule to the public are larger than the cost to industry. They say it forces companies to capture excess methane otherwise lost to the atmosphere, generating tax revenues and royalties for government. Studies estimate $101 million could have been earned from lost methane in 2013 in New Mexico, where an estimated one-third of the nation’s methane is released annually.
Methane also is linked to an increase in respiratory ailments for communities near oil and gas production, according to studies by the EPA and the nonprofit Clear Air Task Force in Massachusetts.
During a Senate Commerce Committee hearing Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., questioned Jack Gerard, president of the American Petroleum Institute, about what the senator called false claims that the methane rule would lead to lost jobs. Udall said Colorado, which passed its own methane-capture regulation in 2014, has not seen residual job losses.
“There is an aggressive industry lobbying campaign to do away with BLM’s methane rule,” Udall said. “But repeal does not hold up under scrutiny, if the public interest is considered.
A poll conducted by Colorado College and released this week found 74 percent of New Mexicans support the rule.
Liliana Castillo, a spokeswoman with the Conservation Voters of New Mexico Education Fund, said in a written statement that the methane rule is long overdue and the governor’s support of the repeal shows “how out of step she is with what New Mexicans want.”
“Our leaders have an obligation to address this issue,” she said, adding that methane pollution is harming “our state, especially low-income, rural, Indigenous and Latino communities that are most directly impacted.”