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Fracking site in California

An 11-judge federal appeals court ruled Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency must enforce methane emission standards from a 2016 rule established under the Obama administration. (Photo: Sarah Craig/Faces of Fracking/Flickr/cc)

Green Groups Celebrate as Court Orders EPA to Reinstate Obama-Era Methane Rule

"Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt's attempt to delay the implementation of these crucial protections had no basis in law."

Jessica Corbett

A federal court issued another blow to the Trump administration's aggressive deregulatory agenda when it ruled on Monday that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must immediately reinstate an Obama-era pollution rule that sets methane emission standards for the oil and natural gas industry.

The Monday ruling, issued by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, was celebrated by green groups that filed a suit challenging an EPA attempt to delay implementation of the rule. The "issuance of the mandate by the full D.C. Circuit protects families and communities across America under clean air safeguards that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sought to unlawfully tear down," said Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) lead attorney Peter Zalzal.

"Trump and Pruitt have repeatedly overreached in their efforts to undermine environmental protections and prop up the oil and gas industry."
Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club

"The court's order is a victory for our communities' health and the safety of our climate. Donald Trump and Scott Pruitt's attempt to delay the implementation of these crucial protections had no basis in law, and we are glad to see their effort to do the bidding of the fossil fuel industry fail once again," said Joanne Spalding, Sierra Club's chief climate counsel. "Trump and Pruitt have repeatedly overreached in their efforts to undermine environmental protections and prop up the oil and gas industry."

As part of Trump and Pruitt's attempts to roll back climate regulations—which have caused multiple federal scientists to resign from the EPA and condemn the administration's environmentally destructive policies—in June, Pruitt attempted to halt the rule while the agency considers a formal repeal.

The 2016 rule was established as part of former President Barack Obama's second-term climate regulations, and seeks to curb the emission of methane—a primary component of natural gas that has been on the rise due to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, and that has a greater impact than carbon dioxide.

A coalition of environmental groups, cities, and states, led by the EDF, sued the EPA over the delay, which a federal court deemed unlawful on July 3.

As Common Dreams reported last month:

The attempt to delay the implementation of the rule—an effort led by Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)—was deemed (pdf) by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit "arbitrary," "capricious," and "tantamount to amending or revoking a rule."

Pruitt's delay attempt was based on claims that the Obama administration did not adequately allow stakeholders to weigh in on key parts of it. The court rejected this argument, though, with two of the three judges writing:

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.

The three-judge panel granted the EPA a two-week reprieve from its early July ruling. When the Trump administration—which is still working to repeal the rule—did not request that the full 11-judge court rehear its case when the reprieve ended Friday, industry groups and conservative states requested the full appeals court hearing. Although the court ordered the EPA to immediately reinstate the regulation, the battle is far from over, as The Hill reported Monday:

The EPA is also working through the regulatory process to delay the regulation for an additional two years. It is gathering public comment until Aug. 9 and could make the delay final after that.

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