Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham joined a choir of criticism Thursday directed towards the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as the agency rescinded Obama-era regulations for methane emissions in the oil and gas sector.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler signed the new regulation at a press conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The new rule removes requirements for operators to fix methane leaks discovered during bi-annual inspections on equipment at well sites and downstream that were installed after 2015, and relaxes other standards related to emissions.
“EPA has been working hard to fulfill President Trump’s promise to cut burdensome and ineffective regulations for our domestic energy industry,” Wheeler said in a statement. “Regulatory burdens put into place by the Obama-Biden Administration fell heavily on small and medium-sized energy businesses. Today’s regulatory changes remove redundant paperwork, align with the Clean Air Act, and allow companies the flexibility to satisfy leak-control requirements by complying with equivalent state rules.”
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“It is utterly disheartening and sadly unsurprising to hear once again that critical environmental regulations are being rolled back by the Trump administration, leaving states to fend for themselves,” Lujan Grisham said in a statement Thursday afternoon. Lujan Grisham cited her administration’s work to develop more stringent methane rules for oil and gas operations in the state.
“New Mexico is well on the way to putting in place our own robust and innovative regulations to curb methane emissions in the oil and gas industry, which will yield improved air quality and fewer climate change-inducing emissions,” she said.
The Environmental Protection Agency released a new interim decision allowing the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, on Thursday. The agency released its revised decision on the controversial devices after retracting the initial interim decision in August. M-44s date back to the 1970s and are used to kill coyotes and other predators that threaten livestock. The spring-loaded device is inserted into the ground, and topped with scented bait to attract carrion-feeding animals. When an animal bites down on the bait, the spring shoots a pellet of powdered sodium cyanide into the animal’s mouth.
The New Mexico Environment Department issued notices of violation to two oil and gas producers operating in southeastern New Mexico. Matador Production Company and Mewbourne Oil Company were both cited for violating the state’s Air Quality Control Act. NMED discovered the violations during an inspection conducted in April alongside the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The violations included failure to capture emissions from storage vessels, failure to maintain pilot lights on flares, failure to comply with closed vent system requirements and failure to ensure natural gas is captured and not emitted to the atmosphere. The EPA also cited the two companies for violating the federal Clean Air Act.
The New Mexico Environment Department and Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham strongly oppose the EPA’s proposal to roll back regulations for methane and other emissions from the oil and gas industry. The EPA proposed removing some regulations covering methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from transmission and storage sources and processing and production operations. 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.”
RELATED: While state grapples with new methane rules, EPA wants to end some methane emissions limits all together
NMED Secretary James Kenney submitted comments in opposition to the proposal to the EPA Thursday night. Kenney argued the proposed rule “preempts state law while imposing significant burdens upon state environmental agencies.”
“The proposed revisions will significantly degrade air quality and adversely impact public health throughout the U.S., including the State of New Mexico,” Kenney said.
Kenny’s comments came after the EPA held a hearing on the proposal in Dallas last week. Several residents from New Mexico testified at the hearing, as did a representative of NMED.
The EPA has repealed a portion of the Clean Water Act that expanded protections for smaller water systems across the U.S. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and Department of the Army Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works R.D. James announced the repeal at an event at the National Association of Manufacturers headquarters in Washington D.C. Monday.
The Obama-era 2015 rule defines “waters of the United States” (WOTUS) to include isolated waterways and wetlands, as well as seasonal streams and rivers that flow only part of the year. The definition was broadly supported by environmental groups as a recognition of the complexity of water systems across the U.S. but drew criticism from industry and land stakeholders for creating uncertainty around which waters are federally regulated and which are not.
Communities in New Mexico and across the western half of the U.S. rely on waterways that flow intermittently after rain or snow to support wildlife habitats and drinking water sources. The 2015 rule extended pollution protections to those types of water systems, which often feed into larger rivers, lakes and other water systems. Ninety-three percent of New Mexico’s waterways are “ephemeral,” meaning they do not flow consistently throughout the year. RELATED: Revised Clean Water Rule leaves out most of NM’s waterways
Wheeler described the 2015 rule as an “egregious power grab” and said its repeal is part of a wider policy shift for regulating water at the agency. “Today’s Step 1 action fulfills a key promise of President Trump and sets the stage for Step 2 – a new WOTUS definition that will provide greater regulatory certainty for farmers, landowners, home builders, and developers nationwide,” Wheeler said in a statement.
On Thursday, EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler withdrew the agency’s interim decision to allow the continued use of sodium cyanide, a pesticide that’s used to make lethal M-44 devices used in predator control. The agency released its interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June, after a period of public comment. The EPA received some 20,000 comments by March 2019, the “overwhelming majority” of which “did not support the continued registration of sodium cyanide,” the agency said.
“This issue warrants further analysis and additional discussions by EPA with the registrants of this predacide,” Wheeler said in a statement. “I look forward to continuing this dialogue to ensure U.S. livestock remain well-protected from dangerous predators while simultaneously minimizing off-target impacts on both humans and non-predatory animals.”
RELATED: EPA issues interim decision on sodium cyanide bombs amid public outcry
M-44s, also called sodium cyanide bombs, are used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services to kill predators that threaten livestock. Sodium cyanide is a restricted-use pesticide, meaning that entities need to be registered to use M-44 devices.
Doña Ana County commissioners gave a federal agency the green light to use lethal sodium cyanide bombs to combat livestock predation. County commissioners voted 3-2 Tuesday to approve an amended contract with the federal Wildlife Services agency to continue use of the devices, despite an outpouring of opposition from local environmentalists. “It’s pretty shocking,” said Amanda Munro, communications director for the Southwest Environmental Center and a resident of Las Cruces. “I’m very disappointed in the commissioners who voted to instate this next amendment.”
Southwest Environmental Center and other groups have been fighting the use of sodium cyanide bombs, also called M-44s, in Doña Ana county. Environmentalists have argued that the devices are inhumane and that the use of lethal measures to combat predation are based on outdated science.
The EPA will allow a controversial federal agency to continue using lethal sodium cyanide bombs to kill predators that threaten livestock. The EPA issued an interim decision re-authorizing use of the sodium cyanide bombs under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) in June. UPDATE: EPA Administrator retracts sodium cyanide decision
This story continues as originally written below. Wildlife Services, a secretive agency within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS), uses the devices for what it refers to as wildlife damage management services. Wildlife Services contracts with local government to provide services aimed at reducing livestock losses by killing local predators.
The EPA has added a New Mexico uranium mining basin to a list of sites “targeted for immediate, intense action.” The agency added the San Mateo Creek Basin site, part of the Grants Mining District, to the Administrator’s “Superfund Emphasis List” in mid-July, though the area is not a Superfund site. The agency said sites selected for the Administrator’s Superfund Emphasis List are those that “can benefit from Administrator Wheeler’s direct engagement and have identifiable actions to protect human health and the environment,” and require “timely resolution of specific issues to expedite cleanup and redevelopment efforts.”
The San Mateo Creek Basin stretches across 300 square miles of land within the Rio San Jose drainage basin, across McKinley and Cibola counties in Northwestern New Mexico. The area is known for its uranium production during the Cold War. Uranium mining in the area halted in the mid-1980s, leaving a legacy of waste and environmental impacts that the nearby communities continue to struggle with over thirty years later. Today, there are 85 legacy uranium mines and 4 legacy uranium mill sites within the San Mateo Creek Basin.
This week, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that along with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, finalized the “Waters of the United States” applicability date. Last March, President Donald Trump directed the agencies to review the “Clean Water Rule” also known as the Waters of the U.S. Rule, which was finalized in 2015 as a way to clarify confusion over parts of the Clean Water Act. The rule applies to navigable waterways and their tributaries. Under the rule, a tributary doesn’t need to be a continuously flowing body of water. But it must have flowing water—marked by a bed, bank and high water mark—to warrant protection.