Week in review: May 12

Methane rules live! Plus, DAPL spill, monuments and, at long last, FERC appointments.


Backlash to the monuments backlash

On May 11, Bob Ferguson, the attorney general of Washington, sent Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke a letter chiding the Trump administration for reviewing national monuments, with an eye to repealing or shrinking controversial sites such as Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. The backlash against monuments, led by Utah’s congressional delegation, has gained support from public land transfer advocates; several related bills have been introduced to state legislatures. Ferguson stated in no uncertain terms the state's opposition to any rollback of monuments: “Let me be clear: If the President seeks to do harm to Washington’s National Monuments by eliminating or reducing them, my office will initiate litigation to defend them.”

In doing so, he joined officials from a host of Western states in opposing the potential rollback or curtailment of monuments. Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, called for Craters of the Moon to be removed from the review, since it “adequately suits the diverse interests of Idahoans.” Officials from Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico have also sent letters and passed resolutions criticizing the review and potential rollback of monuments.

Republicans miss their shot to roll back methane rules

On Wednesday, the GOP failed to repeal a methane rule after Arizona Sen. John McCain crossed party lines and voted in favor of keeping the rule. It was a surprising twist, as McCain had shown mild support of rescinding the Obama-era rule. He was one of just three Republicans who sided with Democrats in the vote.

The legislation would have repealed the Obama-era rule designed to prevent methane emissions from leaking out of drilling operations on public lands, under the Congressional Review Act, which allows a new administration to rescind policies made late in the former administration’s tenure. The CRA deadline expired this week and the vote against the methane repeal is a blow for Republicans, because it’s now likely safe from repeal by Congress. 

After the ruling, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, released the following statement: “I call on Interior Secretary (Ryan) Zinke to withdraw the rule immediately … If left in place, this regulation will only discourage energy production, job creation, and economic opportunity across the West. The state of Wyoming and other leading energy producing states already regulate methane emissions. We don’t need this duplicative rule.” 

From a former oil and gas industry employee, here’s why we need methane rules. For a deeper dive on how methane emissions impact the West, read our feature from 2015.

DAPL has spilled

Documents released this week by South Dakota’s Department of Environmental and Natural Resource revealed that the Dakota Access Pipeline has already done what activists feared it would: spill. On April 4, 84 gallons of crude oil leaked at a pump station in Spink County, South Dakota. The spill was contained and cleaned up.

Still, InsideClimate News reports that there is no spill response plan in place for the stretch of pipeline that goes underneath the Missouri River above the Standing Rock Reservation where protestors camped out for months last year. In February, the Army Corps of Engineers dropped further environmental assessments planned by the Obama administration to address concerns that earlier reviews overlooked spill risks and impacts on tribal sites.

Need a refresher on the DAPL controversy? Catch up with our in-depth coverage of the pipeline.

Nominees for a crippled FERC

This week, President Donald Trump nominated Neil Chatterjee, a top energy aide for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and Pennsylvania regulator Robert Powelson, of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners, to fill gaps on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).

The FERC is a little-known, but crucial agency tasked with approving (or denying) natural gas pipelines, compressor stations, export terminals and hydropower projects, as well ruling on complex energy rate cases. The commission has been unable to make decisions since February, when former FERC Chairman Norman Bay, a Democrat, abruptly left the commission, depriving the panel of a quorum. 

Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairwoman Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said this week she intends to move the president’s nominees through the panel quickly. “As they come and as we get the paperwork, I want to try to move people,” she said. “FERC has been without a quorum since early February, and they need the ability to get to work.”

The “toadstools” within Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument.

Rotten news for the Alaskan tundra

According to research published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, carbon emission rates from the Alaskan tundra have increased by more than 70 percent since 1975. That’s because climate change has caused the Alaskan Arctic to stay warmer longer into the winter, giving dead plants in permafrost three bonus months — October through December — to decompose instead of freezing. Live tundra plants are releasing more carbon dioxide, too. The Arctic tundra now produces more carbon in early winter than Arctic forests take up by growing in the summer. As The New York Times explains, the Arctic and near-Arctic contain more carbon in their thawing soils than the atmosphere does. Read more about climate change effects in Alaska in Assistant Editor Paige Blankenbuehler’s story on retreating glaciers. 

More bad news:

The Guardian reports that it’s now “inevitable” that the contiguous United States will lose all of its glaciers within a matter of decades, according to scientists who have revealed the precipitous shrinkage of dozens of glaciers in Montana.

In case you missed it, here’s everything you need to read from hcn.org this week:

Oregon keeps Elliot State Forest public

Analysis: Could Trump unravel the American West?

Photos: From cribbage to fire in just five minutes

Climate change is unraveling natural cycles in the West

¿Qué debe hacer una comunidad para proteger a sus migrantes? Read the english version here

Is Yucca Mountain back from the dead?

What citizen science can say about seabird deaths

Opinion: In a prairie dog colony, the power dynamics of modern America

Opinion: A New Mexico electricity co-op declares its independence

Around and around we go: