Dozens of people who live near oil and gas wells pleaded with the Trump administration at a Denver hearing Wednesday not to roll back rules for methane pollution, while industry representatives said the changes should go further.
The operator of Colorado’s single largest source of methane emissions is asking to pay Coloradans even less to continue polluting our air and water, bulldozing our forests, and exacerbating the climate problem.
Arch Coal operates the West Elk coal mine — Colorado’s largest coal mine — in Gunnison National Forest, and they are filing a request to pay nearly 40% less to Coloradans for each ton of coal they dig up. The process that allows coal companies to request to pay a lower rate is intended to “promote development” of resources that would otherwise not be mined, but Arch Coal’s request goes even further, including a retroactive payment from Colorado taxpayers for mining that has already occurred. Unsurprisingly, the nearby town of Crested Butte has voiced their opposition, and the Gunnison County Commissioners withheld support due to lack of both transparency and opportunity to participate in the decision-making process. Arch Coal’s request now sits on Gov. Hickenlooper’s desk for consultation, and the Bureau of Land Management has given the governor until Sept. 2 to respond.
In order to dig out the underground coal at the West Elk mine, Arch Coal bulldozes the forest above to vent methane that would otherwise build up and pose a threat of explosion deep in the mines. This one mine emits more methane than any other mine, well, or operation in all of Colorado. That’s a problem because it’s a complete waste of a valuable public resource that belongs to Coloradans, and because it’s a major contributor to climate change, since methane traps up to 80 times more heat than carbon dioxide. All of these methane emissions, of course, are in addition to the carbon dioxide, and other toxic air pollutants, released into our air when the millions of tons of coal dug out of this mine are eventually burned at a power plant.
Earlier this summer, the governor took a stand against the inaction on climate policy at the federal level by issuing an executive order to commit Colorado to the greenhouse emissions cuts laid out in the Paris Climate agreement. This was an important step toward continuing the growth of the state’s booming clean energy economy, confronting our state’s role in changing the climate, and protecting our air, water and public lands for future generations. Now, the governor has an opportunity to oppose Arch Coal’s royalty rate request and to show that Colorado can no longer offer preferential treatment to companies that reward their CEOs millions of dollars each year at the expense of Colorado’s communities, public health, and environment.
While the use of coal played a historically important role in powering this state, there are now more affordable, cleaner, and sustainable alternatives that are already significantly benefiting our energy economy. More Coloradans are now employed in clean energy and energy efficiency than all fossil fuels. Not only do wind and solar employ far more people in the state than coal, they are increasingly the most affordable sources of energy available to us. Since 2009, wind costs have dropped about 66% and utility-scale solar has dropped 85%, and those trends aren’t expected to stop.
The end of coal is in sight, despite the Trump administration’s delusions, but coal companies won’t disappear without a fight. Arch Coal’s efforts at West Elk are brazen and, unfortunately, they may work without strong opposing leadership. Now is the time for Gov. Hickenlooper to stand up for Colorado communities and lead our state toward a clean, sustainable 21st century economy by opposing Arch Coal’s rate reduction request.
A federal appeals court blocked a Trump administration effort to suspend an Obama-era methane regulation with input from Colorado.
Gov. John Hickenlooper, a Democrat, has long been dedicated to the subject of methane, dating back to 2014 when the state passed the first methane regulations in the nation. Producers are required to use infrared cameras to detect leaks in production equipment, conduct instrument-based monthly inspections on large sources of emissions and implement expedited timelines for repairing leaks.
In 2015, the Obama administration proposed the first-ever national methane regulations aimed at significantly cutting the greenhouse gas, after Colorado paved the way. The rule was implemented last year.
The proposal called for a reduction in methane emissions from the oil-and-gas industry by as much as 45 percent from 2012 levels in the next 10 years. In addition to cutting greenhouse gases, it also would reduce volatile organic compounds, referred to as VOCs.
The 2-1 decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Monday serves as a blow to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and the Trump administration, which is trying to unravel a series of Obama-era environmental regulations.
Pruitt said last month that the agency would suspend the national leak detection and repair standards for 90 days. He later extended the moratorium for two years on enforcement of parts of the EPA methane rule.
But the appeals court said the EPA’s decision was “unreasonable,” “arbitrary” and “capricious,” ruling that the agency does not have the authority under the Clean Air Act to suspend enforcement. The appellate court said the EPA would have to launch a new rule-making process to rollback the Obama administration’s regulations.
Days earlier, on Friday, Hickenlooper announced Colorado would join 13 other states and the District of Columbia in seeking implementation of the EPA methane rule. The state asked the Washington, D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals for permission to join the lawsuit. Six environmental groups initiated the complaint.
The Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups behind the lawsuit, called Pruitt’s suspension of the Obama-era rule “a move that puts the health and safety of Americans across the country at risk.”
“Suspending the standards threatens the health and welfare of Americans who live in close proximity to oil and gas development by allowing thousands of tons of these harmful air pollutants to be emitted into the atmosphere,” read a statement from EDF.
Methane strongly absorbs infrared radiation, much more so than carbon dioxide, which adds to climate change.
The Four Corners – including southwest Colorado – has been identified as having the highest concentration of methane in the nation. Researchers have been investigating the cause, which could be a mix of energy development and natural occurrences.
Hickenlooper’s lawsuit is being filed without assistance from Republican Attorney General Cynthia Coffman. Coffman has been at odds with Hickenlooper over environmental issues.
In 2015, Coffman found herself in a battle with Hickenlooper when she entered the state into a lawsuit that aimed at blocking implementation of federal carbon-pollution standards. The Trump administration has also sought to rollback those Obama-era mandates.
Coffman has maintained that as an elected attorney general for the state, she has independent authority over legal action. In the methane case, Coffman’s office believes a review of the EPA rule would not impose on Colorado’s regulatory scheme, and that the courts will ultimately allow for the suspension to move forward.
The oil and gas industry says the methane rule is duplicative, costly, and will undermine America’s competitiveness. The industry already has significantly reduced methane through innovation, voluntary efforts, and existing regulations, oil and gas producers argue.
But the governor’s office has long-term concerns.
“Colorado has a vested interest in the federal government regulating methane emissions from the oil and gas industry across all 50 states,” read a statement from Hickenlooper’s office.
“Colorado led the way in 2014 by becoming the first state in the country to regulate methane leaks. These regulations were developed in concert with the oil and gas industry. As a result, this type of regulation is a win-win: it improves the environment and helps reduce leakage and lost revenue in the production and transportation of oil and gas. The EPA used Colorado’s regulations as a template for the federal approach to this issue. Without these rules, Colorado’s methane levels will increase due to pollution from neighboring states, which is why federal regulation is so important.”
Oil and natural gas companies and their supporters continue to wage a war of words — and opinion polls — with backers of a Bureau of Land Management rule regulating emissions of methane from natural gas wells drilled on federal land, while a Colorado senator remains undecided on his stance on the rule.
Coloradans are getting in the fight over repealing newly enacted rules to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells on public lands. The rules, published in November, would require companies to capture methane they leak or vent. Besides keeping gases that contribute to global warming out of the atmosphere, proponents say the methane […]
One of Colorado's U.S. Senators is strongly opposed to a measure that would roll back an Obama administration rule to prevent the flaring and wasting of methane and natural gas developed on public and tribal lands, while the second is undecided.
The rule was among several environmental regulations issued in the last days of the Obama administration. The U.S. House invoked the rarely used Congressional Review Act to reverse the rule.
Colorado Republican U.S. Reps. Scott Tipton, Ken Buck, Doug Lamborn and Mike Coffman voted for House Joint Resolution 36 to repeal the rule on Feb. 3, while Democratic U.S. Reps. Diana DeGette, Ed Perlmutter and Jared Polis voted to keep the rule in place. The measure passed by a 221-191 tally. It had yet to have its first Senate committee hearing.
The U.S. House voted Friday morning, 221 to 191, to repeal new rules that require those who operate drilling wells on public lands to capture leaked or vented methane. The Bureau of Land Management’s Methane Waste Rule put a stop to companies venting the wells into the atmosphere, a practice that was defended by industry in hearings and a […]
Leaders from the faith community in Colorado and across the Southwest have sent a letter to President Barack Obama and Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, thanking them for adopting new rules to limit methane waste on public and tribal lands.
A Public News Service story said the letter described the policy as in sync with church efforts to counter wasteful attitudes and behaviors that Pope Francis has called a "throwaway culture."