July 11, 2017

NM groups urge EPA to enforce methane waste rule

Laura Paskus

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The Environmental Protection Agency got some push-back from folks in New Mexico and other states at a hearing in the nation’s capital on Monday.

The agency wants to delay a new methane-emission rule for the oil and gas industry on federal land – although methane leaked at well sites is linked to climate change and considered a risk to public health. New Mexico and California have already sued the EPA to keep the rule in place.

Alexandra Merlino with the New Mexico chapter of the group Moms Clean Air Force spoke at the EPA hearing. She says energy producers need to be held accountable to update their equipment and stop methane leaks.

“If we don’t hold them accountable, they’re not going to do it,” she said. “We’re just giving them a pass to pollute.”

The Trump administration says holding off on enforcement of the new rule for two years would save businesses $235 million.

Satellite data shows the Four Corners area of northwest New Mexico has the country’s biggest concentration of methane, as home to the nation’s largest collection of storage tanks, pipelines and processing plants.

Colorado is also affected by the methane cloud in the Four Corners region, but it adopted tougher air pollution rules for the oil and gas industry in 2016, and became the first state in the nation to cover methane.

Merlino says New Mexico is at the mercy of the federal government’s rules.

“In New Mexico, we don’t have state regulations,” she notes. “We depend on the EPA as our backstop.”

The new emissions rule was delayed by the U.S. Interior Department after opposition from energy companies and several states, including Wyoming – but last week, a U.S. Court of Appeals ruled the EPA can’t suspend the rule entirely. It is slated to take effect in January 2018.