Continuing its relentless "assault on clean air, public lands, our health, and our climate", the Trump administration on Tuesday gutted a major Obama-era rule that required oil and gas companies to reduce methane emissions and take certain measures to prevent leaks on public lands.
But in a statement, the Department of the Interior said that rule was "unnecessarily burdensome on the private sector".
Last week, Trump's Environmental Protection Agency proposed weakening requirements for testing and repairing methane leaks in drilling operations, the latest step toward rolling back Obama-era regulations to combat climate change.
"The flawed 2016 rule was a radical assertion of legal authority that stood in stark contrast to the longstanding understanding of Interior's own lawyers", said Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt.
The current version of the rule allows oil operations on public lands to release or burn - known as venting or flaring - gas from the wells.
The new rule largely eliminates those requirements, including limits on how much methane can be released and burned off. Experts said the previous standards would have prevented the release of almost 180,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere each year. The gas is considered a more potent contributor to climate change than carbon dioxide, although it occurs in smaller volumes.
A gas flare at a natural gas processing facility near Williston, N.D. The Trump administration wants to ease regulations on methane emissions from energy production on public lands. The Obama administration had called for requiring producers to capture rather than waste those gases, and would charge royalties.
"If implemented, the proposal would recoup almost all the costs to the oil and gas industry that would have been imposed by the Obama-era regulation", the Times noted last week.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tom Udall of New Mexico criticized the rollback as a "giveaway to irresponsible polluters".
Within hours of the administration's announcement, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra announced he would challenge the rewritten rule in court. The interior department's Bureau of Land Management argued the standards overlapped with state, tribal and federal rules and that the Obama administration underestimated its costs. It was put on hold in April by a federal judge in Wyoming.
Energy companies said it was overly intrusive and that companies have an economic incentive to capture the methane so they can sell it.
Flaring has been a common practice in Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, New Mexico and other states.