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Trump Hearts Methane. Kids? Not So Much.

EPA, Interior Department push off implementing Obama-era rules to limit methane emissions.

A methane flare at Pawnee National Grasslands. (Photo: WildEarth Guardians/flickr/cc)

In a move environmental groups decried as a gift to fossil fuel polluters, President Donald Trump's Interior Department announced Wednesday it was postponing key parts of an Obama-era rule regulating methane emissions from oil and gas developments on public lands.

The document, set to be published Thursday at the Federal Register, cites pending litigation and "significant expenditures" the industry faces to comply with the Bureau of Land management (BLM) rule to limit methane flaring.

Last month climate campaigners cautiously celebrated when the Senate failed to pass a Congressional Review Act (CRA) resolution to kill the rule, calling it a win for common sense, taxpayers, and the environment. But as Lukas Ross, Friends of the Earth's climate and energy campaigner, predicted could happen, the Trump administration took another avenue to derail it.

"Interior's BLM methane waste rule delay flies in the face of overwhelming public support, Congress' recent rejection of an attempt to repeal the rule, and a federal court's determination that an injunction halting implementation of the rule was not warranted," commented Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, executive director of the Western Environmental Law Center. "Methane waste seriously and urgently threatens our climate, our pocketbook, and public health," he said. According to Schlenker-Goodrich, the move also proves that (controversial) Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is not serving the interests of the American public.

Echoing that reaction, Lena Moffitt, senior director of the Sierra Club's Our Wild America Campaign, said, "Once again, Donald Trump and Ryan Zinke are showing where their priorities lie: the profits of corporate polluters above all else, including the health of our communities."

"Working behind closed doors to undermine these commonsense protections is a slap in the face to the millions of Americans who support them, and to the many communities who will breathe polluted air as a result," she added

The Interior Department move comes on the heels of a decision by the Environmental Protection Agency affecting the same potent greenhouse gas.

The agency, the Washington Post reports,

announced on Tuesday it would postpone a 2016 rule limiting methane and smog-forming pollutants from oil and gas wells. The decision was made at the request of firms that would be affected by rule as the EPA reconsidered whether to implement the stricter standard.

The Guardian notes that the decision comes "despite acknowledging that children will be disproportionately harmed by the decision."

The EPA's announcemnt states:

EPA believes that the environmental health or safety risk addressed by this action may have a disproportionate effect on children. The basis for this determination can be found in the 2016 Rule (81 FR 35893). However, because this action merely proposes to delay the 2016 Rule, this action will not change any impacts of the 2016 Rule after the stay. Any impacts on children’s health caused by the delay in the rule will be limited, because the length of the proposed stay is limited.

The move drew sharp rebuke from Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

"It is unconscionable that this unprecedented loophole for oil and gas pollution will increase dangerous smog, methane, and cancer-causing benzene when common sense solutions are at hand," said Peter Zalzal, lead attorney for EDF.

"Every day that these clean air safeguards are delayed, thousands of oil and gas wells across the country will emit dangerous pollution in the air, harming the health of our children. We are taking legal action to carry out our nation's clean air laws and fight for the health of children across America," Zalzal continued.

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