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Fort Berthold environmental organization files suit over methane rule pause

New Town, N.D. — Members of Fort Berthold Protectors of Water & Earth Rights are challenging the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's decision to stay provisions of its regulation of methane flaring on federal and tribal lands.

"Living in Mandaree, I can see at least 50 flares surrounding me, what is it am I breathing in?" said Lisa DeVille, president of Fort Berthold POWER, a local affiliate of Dakota Resource Council.

The rule, which is intended to reduce flaring, went into effect in January; however, in June, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke stayed the rule, preventing its implementation for at least six months.

The pause in the rule came about a month after a repeal effort failed in the senate. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., was one of those no votes citing concerns over waste and tribal sovereignty. In a joint letter to Zinke with Sen. Joe Manchin III, D-W.V., she expressed favor in pausing enforcement and remanding the rule back for changes.

Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation Chairman Mark Fox said the Tribal Business Council did not support overturning the rule but had asked for revisions to the rule, allowing for more deference to tribal regulations.

Fort Berthold POWER is made up of a combination of tribal and non-tribal members, said DRC Executive Director Don Morrison.

Morrison said staying the rule had nothing to do with tribal sovereignty and that changes to include more tribal deference could have been made without pausing enforcement. He said, instead, by staying the rule, the improvements made under the rule don't go into effect.

"And in this administration, it could get worse," he said.

Fort Berthold POWER's lawsuit was filed in the North District Court of California, alongside suits by the states of California and New Mexico, challenging the decision of the Trump administration not to enforce the rule.