Court rejects Trump’s delay of EPA methane pollution rule – The Hill, July 3, 2017
By Timothy Cama
The Trump administration cannot delay an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule limiting methane pollution from oil and natural gas drilling, a federal court ruled Monday.
In an early court loss for President Trump’s aggressive agenda of environmental deregulation, the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit said that the EPA didn’t meet the requirements for a two-year stay of the Obama administration’s methane rule.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s decision to delay enforcement of the provisions was based on arguments that when the Obama administration wrote the rule, it violated procedures by not allowing stakeholders to comment on some parts of what became the final regulation. The agency used that reasoning to formally reconsider the rule and to pause enforcement.
But the court said the argument doesn’t withstand scrutiny.
“The administrative record thus makes clear that industry groups had ample opportunity to comment on all four issues on which EPA granted reconsideration, and indeed, that in several instances the agency incorporated those comments directly into the final rule,” two of the judges on the three-judge panel wrote.
“Because it was thus not ‘impracticable’ for industry groups to have raised such objections during the notice and comment period [the Clean Air Act] did not require reconsideration and did not authorize the stay.”
Environmental groups led by the Environmental Defense Fund had sued the EPA after its delay, asking for quick, emergency action from the court on the matter.
An EPA spokeswoman said the agency is reviewing the court’s opinion and evaluating its options.
The decision could spell trouble for the Trump administration, which is working to dismantle nearly all of former President Barack Obama’s major environmental rules.
In many cases, Trump officials are unilaterally delaying the regulations, like the EPA’s rules on ozone pollution, safety plans for chemical plants and methane pollution from landfills.
But the D.C. Circuit Court, the main court for hearing challenges to regulatory decisions, warned the administration that it would take a hard look at such delays and would allow them to proceed only if they are specifically required under the law.
Judge David Tatel, appointed by former President Bill Clinton, and Judge Robert Wilkins, appointed by Obama, wrote the decision.
Judge Janice Brown, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote a dissenting opinion. She argued that the court has no authority to rule in the case because it is not a final action by the EPA.
The 2016 rule by Obama was part of a regulatory strategy to reduce emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas around 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.
Pruitt, who was Oklahoma’s Republican attorney general at the time, was one of dozens of parties to sue the EPA in a bid to have the rule overturned.
The Trump administration is working to undo all of Obama’s methane rules, including the landfill rule and one from the Bureau of Land Management.