“Good fences make good neighbors,” wrote the poet Robert Frost. Well, not if your neighbor is an oil and gas facility. In that case, fences do no good. “Good pipes make good neighbors.” Leaky pipes, loosing, say, the greenhouse gas methane into the air are bad for neighborly relations and worse for local and global health.
The Obama Administration passed new environmental rules to force oil and gas facilities to monitor for methane leaks, fix ‘em and keep a publicly accessible record. The rule-making took some years, because rule-making is a deliberate, deliberative process, in which all sides get to comment and lobby and challenge the new regulation.
Along came the Trump Administration and in a matter of weeks tossed more than 800 Obama-era environmental regulations. Some they claimed to reverse, others, like the methane rule, they attempted to dela,y for at least 2 years, and maybe, they hoped, forever.
In the meanwhile, Let’s return to status quo ante, the EPA argued… to how things were before the regulation went into effect, while we study it to see if it’s alright.
Study all you want, a panel of 3 Federal Appeals Court judges ruled 2 to 1, as part of a new rule-making process, but in the meanwhile, stick with the status quo…how things are, and have been since the regulation was promulgated. If your study shows the rule is wrong, the new process will let you fix it.
In their arguments to the new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, a pageant known as “Pushing hard on an open door,” the NY Times reported, “Oil and gas companies have argued that the rule requiring them to report and fix any methane leaks … is an unnecessary burden because many oil-producing states already have their own regulations.”
You might think having one national methane rule to obey would remove a truly “unnecessary burden” of adjusting to the whims of up to 50 different states. But no, that’s not what the energy folks have in mind.
What they have in mind is New Mexico.
New Mexico has no laws aimed at reducing methane emissions, and it has no stated policy on methane.
Governor Susana Martinez, who has benefited from millions of dollars in energy industry contributions to her 2 gubernatorial campaigns merely says, her Administration enforces all state environmental laws. Including one presumes, the “no law,” on methane.
Her state department for the extractive industries says, methane levels are dropping. Of course, they are, largely because of the industry slowdown caused by low oil prices. But how would the state know? They do no testing for methane.
Why should they? It’s not like anybody doesn’t know about New Mexico’s global signature, clearly detectible from space – the biggest plume of methane in the whole western hemisphere.
When the winds are blowing right, part of the NM methane plume lofts over neighboring Colorado, which must be especially frustrating to the state that has some of the toughest rules pertaining to methane.
A tale of 2 states, 2 opposing approaches to the issue of methane.
Rebecca Moss is an environmental report for The New Mexican, the daily newspaper of Santa Fe, NM. She has also reported for the Santa Fe Reporter weekly, Governing.com, Elle Magazine and the Phnom Penh Post in Cambodia.