State Environmental Officials and Attorneys General Urge Senate Leaders to Reject Congressional Disapproval of BLM’s Methane Rule

February 7, 2017

On February 6, 2017, state environmental officials and attorneys general from California, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont sent Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Charles Schumer a letter urging the Senate to vote against disapproving the Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) rule to reduce waste from oil and gas production on federal land.

BLM adopted the rule under the authority of the Mineral Leasing Act of 1920, which requires the agency to prevent waste of federal oil and gas resources. The rule limits the amount of gas that is wasted through venting, flaring, and leakage in the production of oil and natural gas by requiring producers to adopt cost-effective control measures. These measures will help the federal government collect an additional $14 million annually in royalties and will reduce emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane.

The Congressional Review Act (CRA) allows Congress to overturn a major regulatory action within 60 legislative days of its adoption by a majority vote in both the House of Representatives and the Senate.  If Congress overturns a rule through such a “resolution of disapproval,” it also prohibits a federal agency from reissuing the same rule again or promulgating a future rule that is “substantially similar.” On February 3, 2017, the House adopted a resolution overturning the BLM’s rule within 60 days of its adoption. The Senate is expected to vote on an identical Senate resolution the week of February 6.  

The states’ letter urged the Senate to oppose Senate Joint Resolution 11, disapproving of the BLM rule, because the rule is consistent with BLM’s authority to “ensure that when federal oil and gas resources are developed, they are productive and royalty-producing rather than wasted.” Further, the states note that the rule would generate an addition $14 million in annual royalties, “half of which would be allocated to those states where oil and gas development is taking place on federal or Indian land.” The rule also reduces methane emissions, which “pound for pound warms the climate about thirty-four times more than carbon dioxide over a 100-year period . . . and on a twenty-year time frame, has about eighty-six times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide.” The state environmental officials and attorneys general concluded the letter by expressing concern that “[b]ecause no courts have ruled on the impact of a CRA disapproval on subsequent rules that may be ‘substantially similar,’ . . . that a CRA disapproval of the Rule could indefinitely bar BLM from regulating in the area of resource waste prevention–a task which it is statutorily mandated to perform.”

The letter was signed by California Environmental Protection Agency Secretary Matthew Rodriquez, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, Oregon Department of Environmental Quality Interim Director Richard Whitman, Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Rhode Island Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, and Vermont Attorney General Thomas Donovan, Jr.