WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Interior Department this week will try again to delay parts of an Obama-era rule to limit methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands, a rule Congress upheld earlier in the year, a document showed on Wednesday.
The rule, finalized by the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) two months before former President Barack Obama left office, requires oil and gas operators on public lands to prevent leaking, venting and flaring of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.
The administration of President Donald Trump views the rule as excessive environmental regulation, and the BLM issued a new proposal on Wednesday that would delay the rule’s implementation until Jan. 17, 2019, giving the agency time to review it.
The document outlining the plan, slated to be published in the Federal Register on Thursday, can be seen at bit.ly/2xZ5BPc
The BLM had said in June it would delay implementation of the rule under a different provision. But that earlier quest suffered a setback late on Wednesday when Judge Elizabeth Laporte for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California ruled the agency had violated federal law in June by failing to consider the benefits of the regulation.
Bethany Davis Noll, the litigation director at the Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law, said the administration’s repeated moves to delay “have created substantial uncertainty for the regulated community and put at risk valuable benefits.”
The petroleum industry’s chief lobbying group praised the second planned delay, while environmental groups criticized it.
Delays could benefit drillers as the Trump administration seeks to make the country “energy dominant” by maximizing oil and gas output for domestic consumption and for shipping energy products to allies.
Energy companies have said the methane rule could cost tens of thousands of dollars per well and hinder production. They consider it unnecessary because producers have reduced emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas.
Drillers on federal lands produced 9 percent of the natural gas and 5 percent of the oil in the United States last fiscal year.
The American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s top lobbyist, said the delay provides time to “develop an achievable rule ... that serves to prevent waste and conserve resources while encouraging energy production on federal lands.”
Kate Kelly, public lands director at the liberal Center for American Progress, said Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and the Trump administration “need to realize that they are not above the law and that it is American taxpayers, not the oil and gas industry, that pay their salaries.”
In May, the U.S. Senate rejected a resolution to revoke the rule, as several of Trump’s fellow Republicans, including Senator John McCain, voted against the measure.
The Interior Department, which will take public comments on the proposed delay once it is published in the Federal Register, did not immediately respond to questions about the court ruling.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Additional reporting by Emily Flitter; Editing by David Gregorio, Cynthia Osterman and Tom Hogue
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