While state grapples with new methane rules, EPA wants to end some methane emissions limits all together

The EPA’s newly proposed methane regulation revisions drew criticism from oil and gas companies and environmentalists alike and spurred some groups in New Mexico to redouble efforts to pressure state officials adopt more stringent rules for methane emissions in the state. Last week, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler proposed updates to federal air quality regulations for the oil and gas industry that would remove limits on methane emissions from production and processing operations and would remove regulations all together for methane emissions coming from transmission and storage sources of oil and gas production. The proposed rule changes will “save the industry millions of dollars in compliance costs each year,” the EPA said, “while maintaining health and environmental regulations on oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate.”

“EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15%. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall described the proposed changes as a “backwards move in face of climate crisis,” in a statement released last week. 

“EPA’s decision today is an affront to New Mexicans and people across this country who have a right to clean air.

Confusion reigns in calculating methane emissions

No one knows exactly how much methane is released into the atmosphere each year in New Mexico. And with record production in oil and gas for the state of New Mexico, and a governor that wants to transition to clean energy, that’s a big problem. According to EPA data, methane makes up just 10 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.—but it is a particularly potent greenhouse gas, with eighty times the warming power of carbon dioxide. In 2014, the NOAA documented an alarming methane “hotspot” hovering above the Four Corners area. Subsequent research indicated the methane cloud was in fact due to oil and gas production in the region.

Amigos Bravos

Group says it will sue EPA over stormwater pollution in Los Alamos

A Taos-based water conservation group has been waiting for the EPA to make a decision about a stormwater permit for over five years, while pollution coming from urban stormwater runoff in Los Alamos County, the group alleges, continues to threaten water quality standards. Amigos Bravos wants a final determination from the EPA in response to a petition it filed with the agency back in 2014. “It’s been 1,833 days since we petitioned,” Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos, said in an interview. “Under the regulations, they are supposed to respond within 180 days. So, we are close to two thousand days overdue.”

In June, the organization filed a notice of intent to sue the EPA over the failure to act.

Feds continue environmental rollbacks with new methane emissions rule

SANTA FE, N.M. – Conservation groups are slamming a move by the Trump administration to weaken rules on methane emissions from oil and gas operations. The new rule, proposed on Tuesday, would allow companies to inspect their lines for leaks less often, and take longer to fix issues that arise. Industry has long claimed the Obama-era rules are too expensive and burdensome. However, Matt Watson, associate vice president of the Environmental Defense Fund’s Energy Program, said methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas that merits a strong federal standard. “Over 20 years, it’s more than 80 times more powerful than C02 [carbon dioxide] at trapping heat.

Trump administration neuters nuclear safety board

The Trump administration has quietly taken steps that may inhibit independent oversight of its most high-risk nuclear facilities, including some buildings at Los Alamos National Laboratory, a Department of Energy document shows. An order published on the department’s website in mid-May outlines new limits on the Defense Nuclear Facilities Safety Board — including preventing the board from accessing sensitive information, imposing additional legal hurdles on board staff, and mandating that Energy Department officials speak “with one voice” when communicating with the board. The board has, by statute, operated independently and has been provided largely unfettered access to the nation’s nuclear weapons complexes in order to assess accidents or safety concerns that could pose a grave risk to workers and the public. The main exception has been access to the nuclear weapons themselves. For many years, the board asked the Department of Energy to provide annual reviews of how well facilities handled nuclear materials vulnerable to a runaway chain reaction — and required federal officials to brief the board on the findings.

New EPA head has long history of ties to mining interests

Andrew Wheeler, a former coal and uranium mining lobbyist, has been named the acting administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, after the abrupt resignation of Scott Pruitt. Pruitt announced his decision on Thursday, amid a series of ethics investigations into his improper use of taxpayer money and penchant for using employees to conduct personal errands. Wheeler has made a career out of representing fossil fuel interests and rolling back environmental regulations. His relationships with senior officials from the Department of Interior and the Department of Energy, his lobbying background and deep ties to polluting industries have some people worried that his influence could extend beyond the parameters of the EPA. This story originally appeared at High Country News and is reprinted with permission.

Scott Pruitt’s ethics violations haven’t stopped his rollbacks

Kevin Chmielewski knew when he was out at the Environmental Protection Agency. As he told Democratic members of Congress, it was when the former deputy chief of staff refused to retroactively approve a staff member’s first-class travel from Morocco to the United States. Chmielewski, a 38-year-old former Coast Guard member, was placed on administrative leave without pay, later learning from news reports that he had been fired. A staunch Trump supporter, Chmielewski had tangled with EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt over spending before: He’d previously dissuaded Pruitt from using EPA funds to contract with a private jet company for $100,000 per month. After his firing, Chmielewski turned whistleblower, meeting with congressional Democrats to detail EPA behaviors that he found to be unethical.

Heinrich, Udall: EPA head Pruitt should resign

U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich and Tom Udall said Thursday that U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt should resign. The two Democrats are the latest elected official to say the scandal-ridden administrator should not be in charge of the agency. “Scott Pruitt has been surrounded by ethical problems and has failed to take the core mission of the Environmental Protection Agency seriously,” Heinrich said in a statement. “He has been plagued by conflicts of interest and built a long track record that is antithetical to the EPA’s responsibility to keep our nation’s land, air, and water clean. And perhaps most damning of all, Mr. Pruitt has a willful disregard for data-driven science when it comes to tackling climate change.”

It isn’t Pruitt’s stance on climate change, however, that has led to even some Republicans to call for him to resign.

Trump’s Labor Department eviscerates workplace safety panels

Last October, Gregory Junemann received a brief email from an official at the U.S. Department of Labor effectively firing him and 15 others from a volunteer gig helping the government reduce hazards to workers. “Thank you again for your continuing service in providing exceptional guidance on improving the health and safety of our federal workforce,” the email said. Junemann, a labor union president, was a member of the Federal Advisory Council on Occupational Safety and Health, first established by President Richard Nixon. It is one of five panels created by law to advise the labor secretary on how to improve health, safety and whistleblower protections in nearly every facet of the workforce. But under President Donald Trump, the boards have been mothballed or outright killed.

Environmental groups sue over EPA’s move to weaken Clean Air Act

ALBUQUERQUE — Clean-air advocates want the federal courts to stop a new rule that would allow major polluters to turn their pollution controls off. Since 1990, the Clean Air Act has required major sources of pollution to reduce their emissions by the maximum amount possible. However, according to Tomas Carbonell, director of regulatory policy and lead attorney with the Environmental Defense Fund, a new rule issued in January, with no opportunity for public comment, allows those major polluters to reclassify themselves as smaller sources. “In doing so,” he said, “they avoid complying with the most protective emission standards that EPA has issued to reduce emissions of pollutants like mercury, benzene, arsenic and other dangerous compounds.” The Environmental Protection Agency has claimed the rule is required by its new interpretation of the Clean Air Act.