One in, two out; methane rules; facts and democracy

HCN.org news in brief.

 

THE CONTRADICTORY FIGHT OVER METHANE RULES
Using the Congressional Review Act, the U.S. House voted to repeal the Bureau of Land Management’s methane emissions rules in February. As of press time, the fate of the rules remained up to the Senate. If repealed, the BLM will be barred not only from implementing its current rules, but from crafting similar policies. The move is perplexing: Methane rules developed locally, even when they’re similar to those written by the BLM, were broadly supported. But implementing those policies on a national scale has been elusive. The battle over the methane rules is an example of the curious ways in which the politics of environmental regulation change when the federal government gets involved. In the end, the blowback seems to be less about the particulars of the rules than resistance to the expansion of federal regulation. Unfortunately, the trouble with leaving methane regulations up to states is that the problems created by excessive greenhouse gas emissions and wasted resources aren’t bound by state lines. -Cally Carswell

Flames from a flaring pit near a well in the Bakken oil field.
Orjan F. Ellingvag/Corbis via Getty Images

ONE IN? TWO OUT
President Donald Trump mandated in an executive order in early February that two existing regulations be eliminated for every new regulation issued. He dictated that the costs of any new rule be offset by savings from the regulations that are repealed. The president’s action, while monumental in scope, presents practical challenges. Most rules aren’t written at agencies’ discretion but are mandated by Congress or the courts. And even if a regulation is not protected by legislation, an agency may not just simply strike it from the books: It must go through a lengthy new rulemaking process required by the Administrative Procedure Act to undo regulations, including seeking public comment. The idea of streamlining regulations is not new, but Trump’s executive order goes further, requiring that agencies examine only costs, without accounting for benefits that health and environmental regulations have for society. -Elizabeth Shogren

FEDERAL HIRING FREEZE HITS WESTERN LAND AGENCIES
President Trump signed an executive order that eliminated vacant federal positions and froze all federal hiring to eventually reduce the number of government employees. But in late January, the administration released a memo to clarify exemptions for the U.S. Postal Service, military and CIA — and allowances for seasonal hires, such as wildland firefighters in the Forest Service or rangers in the National Park Service. -Anna V. Smith

A firefighter stands amid the flames in the Gila National Forest, New Mexico.
©Kari Greer/ U.S. Forest Service

WESTERN STATES REACT TO TRUMP'S TENUOUS IMMIGRANT BAN
In late January, President Donald Trump ordered a temporary ban on travelers from seven Muslim-majority countries: Iraq, Iran, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia and Libya. The order prevented entry of immigrants for 90 days, refugees for 120 days and suspended entry of refugees from Syria entirely. Westerners reacted to the ban with protests at international airports in Seattle, Denver and San Francisco. Both Democratic and Republican members of Congress spoke out against it. California, which took in the most refugees in 2016, has filed a lawsuit in opposition to the ban. Lawsuits have cropped up in Colorado and Washington. In early February, the order was blocked. As of press time it had not been reinstated, even though the Trump administration has argued that it needs to be implemented for national security reasons. Rep. Mark Takano, D-Calif., compared the ban to the West’s racist treatment of Japanese immigrants and citizens in the 1940s: “If you are silent today, you would have been silent then.” -Anna V. Smith 

LANDS NEAR CHACO LEASED FOR DRILLING 
In January, the Bureau of Land Management leased nearly 850 acres of land for oil and gas development in New Mexico near Chaco Culture National Historical Park, netting close to $3 million. While Chaco Canyon and its ruins are protected from development, as is a 10-mile buffer around the park, surrounding areas are not. That land bears remnants of Ancestral Puebloan civilization and is sacred to Navajo, Hopi, Zuni and other Pueblo Indians. Nonetheless, about 90 percent of the Greater Chaco Area has already been leased for oil and gas development. Native Americans and environmental groups have fought to exclude the remaining areas, and parcels won’t be released to the winning bidders until several protests have been resolved. -Jodi Peterson

You say

Mike McCowan: “This is BLM par for the course in (New Mexico)! The thing is, this place is so remote, there’s no local community … to voice any objection.”

Jim Vance: “Any increase in seismic activity (due to drilling) will simply not be a good thing for the continued longevity of those stacked-rock walls.”

Julie Meaney Ross: “The BLM needs a serious overhaul and new management. They have been doing a lot of idiotic things that taxpayers do not like. They have forgotten they work for us.”

 

“Healthy democracy depends on the ability of a free press to deliver accurate, factual information to the public.”

—Kate Schimel, deputy editor-digital, outlining the new secure protocols in place for readers and sources to contact High Country News in the wake of a new administration and Congress that “appear hostile to a free press.”