New Mexico and California this week became the first Western states to intervene in a lawsuit challenging new federal regulations aimed at sharply reducing methane emissions by oil and gas producers.

In a joint motion filed Thursday on behalf of the federal government in a U.S. District Court case brought by petroleum groups and three other Western states, New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas and California Attorney General Kamala Harris said the Bureau of Land Management’s methane capture rule is crucial to protect public health and the environment, and to bring states needed revenues from gas that is being leaked into the atmosphere.

James Hallinan, a spokesman for Balderas, said, “It was necessary to intervene to require producers to pay royalties to New Mexico schoolchildren from gas that is unnecessarily wasted.”

A number of environmental groups, including Santa Fe-based WildEarth Guardians, the San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Environmental Defense Fund, also filed a motion objecting to the lawsuit.

In November, the BLM finalized its methane rule, which limits the practice of venting and flaring the potent greenhouse gas and requires companies to install leak-detection equipment on all wells that operate on federal or tribal lands. The rule says venting and flaring contributed to a loss of 462 billion cubic feet of natural gas between 2009 and 2015 from the 100,000 oil and gas wells operating on federal lands. That much gas could be worth more than $200 million per year if captured, the BLM says.

On the same day the rule was finalized, the Independent Petroleum Association of America and the states of Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota filed a lawsuit in a U.S. District Court in Wyoming opposing the regulations.

Western Energy Alliance also objected in court to the BLM rule.

Those who oppose the rule argue it “is a blatant attempt by a land management agency to impose air quality regulations on existing oil and gas operations under the guise of waste prevention.”

The authority to regulate air quality should only lie with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the lawsuit says.

The EPA also finalized a methane capture rule earlier this year — but it only places restraints on new oil and gas wells.

Methane, a greenhouse gas significantly more potent than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it’s released, traps heat in the atmosphere, contributing to global warming. Studies also have found that people living in communities surrounding oil and gas operations are more likely to suffer from asthma and other health impairments.

Balderas and Harris, in their motion filed Thursday, say the new BLM rule “would significantly reduce the wasteful leakage of gas from federally administered oil and gas leases through the application of new standards on venting and flaring.”

The attorneys general also argue that existing oil and gas regulations are outdated — they haven’t been updated in 30 years — and fail to protect residents and the environment from climate change.

Balderas has expressed support for the rule, as has New Mexico’s Democratic congressional delegation. Republican State Land Commissioner Aubrey Dunn and U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, R-N.M., have opposed the rule, however, saying it it harmful to business.

New Mexico has 36 million acres of federal mineral assets and 8 million acres of mineral rights on Native American trust lands. The state is one of the largest producers of crude oil in the U.S. and the second- largest producer of natural gas on public lands. New Mexico also has the third-largest amount of gas flared and wasted nationwide, according to a study by the Western Values Project.

The U.S. District Court in Wyoming will hear oral arguments on the BLM’s methane rule Jan. 6.

Contact Rebecca Moss at 505-986-3011 or rmoss@sfnewmexican.com.