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Interior will adhere to methane rules during review

20 Jun 2017 21:39 (+01:00 GMT)
Interior will adhere to methane rules during review

Washington, 20 June (Argus) — The US Interior Department is following the law in its review of methane flaring regulations and will enforce certain restrictions imposed by former president Barack Obama while it potentially rewrites the rule, secretary Ryan Zinke said.

"I do not drag my feet," on enforcing existing regulations Zinke told members of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, in response to questions from senator Maria Cantwell (R-Washington) on the department's commitment. "We are going to make sure we are complying with the law."

Cantwell has been a vocal critic of President Donald Trump's executive order, signed in March, for Interior to review and possibly revise or rescind the Obama-era methane and waste prevention rule, which would require oil and gas producers to reduce flaring and leaks of greenhouse gas methane

Cantwell and senator Tom Udall (D-New Mexico) sent a letter to Zinke today questioning Interior's notice last week that it is suspending rules applying to oil and gas facilities located on federal lands and accusing the administration of violating administrative law by not seeking public comment beforehand.

"These issues will be defended," Cantwell said during the hearing, which was primarily to discuss Interior's proposed fiscal 2018 budget.

"We provided public notice. That is within the law," Zinke said. He reiterated that he thinks flaring is a waste and that Interior is looking at a way to provide incentives to the industry to capture it.

Zinke also said he intends for the agency to advance "rapidly" in devising a management plan for opening more of the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to leasing, as he ordered last month.

That is important to Alaska and could open the non-wilderness part of the reserve to "responsible production," committee chair Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said.

Murkowski also pressed Zinke on federal surveys started decades ago on the potential for oil and gas development on Alaska's North Slope.

"There is so much that is yet unfulfilled in terms of promises and commitments that were made to Alaska upon statehood," Murkowski said.

Interior is working with the state on using technology to complete the surveys, Zinke said. He said the agency and the state should put a deadline on the reviews and "look at the best technology to get it done."

This was the first of two appearances Zinke will make before Senate panels this week to discuss the budget. He will testify before a Senate Appropriations subcommittee tomorrow.

The White House is seeking to cut Interior's budget for fiscal 2018 by 11pc, or $1.4bn, in part by axing programs it says are inefficient, duplicative or unnecessary.

Last week, Zinke faced bi-partisan criticism from members of the House of Representatives over the administration's proposal to eliminate an abandoned mine coal remediation program. Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) questioned that decision today as well, saying he hopes that Zinke will reconsider because the communities "have given so much to this country."

Zinke reiterated that while he respects the community, the abandoned mine land program cuts, like others, are necessary to balance the budget.

"There are tough decisions throughout, but if we want to balance the budget this is a starting point of what a balanced budget should look like," Zinke said.

Democrats were skeptical. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) accused the administration of favoring "resource extraction over conservation." Zinke disagreed.