Court rules EPA must enforce Obama-era methane rule

The Trump administration’s rollback of environmental regulations has hit a roadblock.


This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A federal court just dealt a blow to the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to roll back environmental regulations. On Monday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency must enforce an Obama-era rule which sets pollution limits for the oil and gas industry and requires companies to identify and fix methane leaks.

Methane is an extremely potent gas that contributes to global warming. While the gas can come from natural sources, the oil and gas industry contribute the greatest amount of industrial emissions. According to the Environmental Defense Fund, methane is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years after it is released into the atmosphere. The Obama administration implemented the rule in 2016 and said it would slash methane emissions 40 to 45 percent by 2025.

Two flares burn oil field waste gas in Arvin, California.

In April, EPA head Scott Pruitt announced that the agency would “reconsider” the methane rule. In a letter to the oil and gas industry, Pruitt said that the “EPA is continuing to follow through with President Donald Trump’s energy independence executive order” and that “American businesses should have the opportunity to review new requirements, assess economic impacts and report back, before those new requirements are finalized.”

In June, Pruitt issued a notice that would set a two-year pause on the rule which would give companies time to review the rule and accept public comment. Several environmental groups including the EDF, the Natural Resources Defense Counsel, and the Sierra Club filed a lawsuit the same day asking a federal appeals court to reserve the decision. The groups alleged that the EPA did not follow the procedures laid out in the Clean Air Act when it announced the freeze on the rule. Earlier in July, the D.C. Circuit blocked Pruitt’s attempt to halt the regulation saying the agency “lacked authority.” Monday’s decision went a step further, mandating that the EPA actually carry out the rule.

Environmentalists are considering the latest court ruling a victory. Peter Zalzal, EDF’s lead attorney said it “protects families and communities across America under clean air safeguards that EPA Administrator sought to unlawfully tear down.”

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