The Interior Department moved Wednesday toward an 18-month delay in implementing the Obama administration’s rule to limit methane leaks from oil and natural gas drilling on federal land.
Under a proposal set to be published Thursday in the Federal Register, the key requirements for oil and gas drillers would be delayed until January 2019.
Interior’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is using that time to decide whether to fully repeal the regulation.
“The BLM is currently reviewing the 2016 final rule and wants to avoid imposing temporary or permanent compliance costs on operators for requirements that may be rescinded or significantly revised in the near future,” the agency said in its notice.
Trump administration officials said they are concerned that the rule “may have underestimated costs and overestimated benefits, and is therefore presently reviewing that analysis for potential inaccuracies.”
The publication of the notice in the Federal Register on Thursday will kick off a 30-day public comment period, after which Interior can make the regulation final. Any final action would be subject to potential lawsuits by environmentalists, Democratic states and others.
Methane is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas with warming potential around 80 times that of carbon dioxide by volume.
The rule took effect in January, shortly before former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaTop nuclear policy appointee removed from Pentagon post: report Prosecutors face legal challenges over obstruction charge in Capitol riot cases Biden makes early gains eroding Trump's environmental legacy MORE left office. It was meant to ensure that taxpayers get paid by companies for the natural gas that comes out of the ground on federal land.
President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWant to evaluate Donald Trump's judgment? Listen to Donald Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Biden launches blitz for jobs plan with 'thank you, Georgia' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: Court sets in motion EPA ban on pesticide linked to developmental issues | Trump Interior Secretary Zinke files to run for Congress, again | Senate passes bipartisan B water infrastructure bill MORE have promised to change or repeal rules that they feel unnecessarily impede the production and use of domestic energy.
The oil industry and its allies cheered the Trump administration's action Wednesday.
“We welcome BLM's efforts to get this right and encourage the agency to develop an achievable rule in the months ahead that serves to prevent waste and conserve resources while encouraging energy production on federal lands,” said Erik Milito, director of upstream operations at the American Petroleum Institute.
But environmentalists slammed the action as irresponsible for taxpayers and the climate.
“It’s hard to remember the last time Interior made a major announcement to protect public lands, but these giveaways for oil and gas companies are starting to feel routine,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project.
“Between chartered private jets, lowering royalty rates and now suspending this rule, Zinke is fleecing taxpayers for millions, if not, billions of dollars," Saeger added.
Congress tried earlier this year to repeal the methane regulation using the Congressional Review Act. The repeal legislation passed the House, but failed in the Senate, one vote short of passage.