Why conservatives should fight for Obama’s methane rules

Waste is not a conservative ideal.

 

Steve Bonowski is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. He is a Colorado-based board member of Conservatives for Responsible Stewardship, a national nonprofit organization.


Waste is not conservative. That is why conservative presidents from Theodore Roosevelt to Ronald Reagan made fighting waste a priority. Both presidents believed that conservation was essential to keeping America strong.

That’s why any true conservative should support efforts to prevent the kind of waste that costs taxpayers a bundle. The Bureau of Land Management recently took a great step in that direction with its Methane and Waste Prevention rule, which requires oil and gas companies to be responsible and capture the natural gas they extract from our public lands. Unfortunately, though, on Feb. 3 the House of Representatives voted to repeal the rule with most Republicans in agreement: Eleven Republicans voted against the repeal; three Democrats voted for it. Now, the issue has moved to the Senate.

The BLM, which oversees oil and gas development on nearly 250 million acres of public lands, went through a lengthy rulemaking process before it issued its methane-capture rule, including reviewing thousands of public comments and holding listening sessions across the country. Last November, the agency published the result of all that work: a new set of guidelines, known as the Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, to make sure that when oil and gas is produced on our public lands, companies are using best practices to minimize the waste of natural gas.

President Theodore Roosevelt surely would have approved. As he told Congress in 1907: “To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them.”

Natural gas flares from a flare-head at the Orvis State well on the Evanson family farm in McKenzie County, North Dakota.

Unfortunately, special interests and lobbyists are calling the shots on this issue, and too many supposedly “conservative” members of Congress want the new guidelines repealed.

The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s chief lobbying arm, has doubled down on efforts to eliminate the BLM’s wasted-gas rule, declaring shortly after the election that overturning it was a top priority. API has spent more than $13 million on lobbying over the last two years, and according to The New York Times, the energy industry spends about $300 million a year lobbying Congress, deploying an army of lobbyists — three for each member.

They are using money to paper over the fact that the methane waste rule would save an estimated $330 million worth of natural gas that, until now, has been wasted from public lands every year. That’s right: Even as the industry spends $300 million a year lobbying our elected officials, it is wasting $330 million of our shared natural resources.

Anyone who shares an American ethic of stewardship can recognize that the BLM’s rule makes sense. All told, taxpayers could gain as much as $800 million in royalties over 10 years — but only if the rule is left intact by the conservatives in the Senate, who should not even be considering overturning it.

In seeking to gut the rule, Republicans are using the Congressional Review Act as their scalpel. As the Washington Post noted, using the act is “wholly legitimate” — but the devil lies in the details. Once the Congressional Review Act is used to negate the BLM’s regulations, the agency would be prohibited from ever creating a similar rule again. In the BLM’s case, how would the agency ever be able update its antiquated rules on the matter?

In the West, where most public-lands drilling occurs, the idea of preventing waste is popular. A recent survey found that 81 percent of Western voters, including a whopping 84 percent of Republicans, want to keep the wasted-gas rule in place.

Minimizing waste from our natural resources is one of the few issues that people across ideologies can agree on. But who will our Republican friends in the Senate listen to when it comes to a vote? Will they listen to the high-paid industry lobbyists, or will they listen to their constituents and continue the conservative tradition of fighting waste?

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at [email protected].

High Country News Classifieds
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • PROGRAM MANAGER
    The Board of Diablo Trust is seeking applications for full-time Program Manager with duties of overseeing the coordination and administration of the Diablo Trusts ongoing...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • SECLUDED TWO-STORY CUSTOM LOG HOME
    in 16-acre pinion pine forest with year-round stream, mountain views, wildlife. Garage, root cellar, wood shop, one-room cabin, RV shed, pasture, garden. [email protected]
  • BEAUTIFUL, CUSTOM RASTRA BLOCK ENERGY-EFFICIENT HOME
    Mature, six-acre Ponderosa forest, open pasture. Spectacular Sangre de Cristo mountain & valley views. Well maintained, paved county road, easy drive to world-class skiing &...
  • OJO CALIENTE RIVERSIDE SECLUSION
    Private, 2bd/2bath green home on 2 acres on the Ojo Caliente River between the confluence of the Chama & Rio Grande Rivers. Close to hiking,...
  • CLASSIC NEW MEXICO MOUNTAIN VIEWS
    of the Sangre de Cristo mountains. 3.19 acre lot to build on to escape the crush of city/town life. Short distance to trails, skiing, fishing,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • ASSOCIATE OF PROGRAMS
    The Orton Family Foundation empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision-making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...