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A fracking well flare in Scott Township, Pennsylvania. (Photo: WCN 24/7/flickr/cc)

A fracking well flare in Scott Township, Pennsylvania. (Photo: WCN 24/7/flickr/cc)

In 'Tremendous Victory for Taxpayers, Public Health, and Planet,' Federal Court Rejects Trump Admin.'s Attempt to Suspend Methane Rule

The late Thursday ruling "once again sends a message to this administration that it will not get away with illegal handouts to industry"

Andrea Germanos

A court has once again rejected the Trump administration's effort to suspend an Obama-era rule aimed at reducing releases of methane from oil and gas operations on federal and tribal land.

"The decision," writes Meleah Geertsma, a senior attorney with NRDC, "once again sends a message to this administration that it will not get away with illegal handouts to industry, at the expense of Americans' health and the environment."

The latest rebuke to the attempt to derail the Bureau of Land Management's Waste Prevention Rule was delivered late Thursday by the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern California in response to suits filed by a number of environmental groups, as well as the states of California and New Mexico over the rule suspension.

"The BLM's reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule, and so plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits," Judge William Orrick wrote in his ruling (pdf). "They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts."

Orrick granted a preliminary injunction requiring the Interior Department to enforce the regulation, eliciting praise from environmental groups.

"Though they seem to think otherwise," said Kelly Martin, Sierra Club Beyond Dirty Fuels campaign director, "Donald Trump and [Interior Secretary] Ryan Zinke are not above the law. Once again, the courts are serving as a critical backstop against their reckless attempts to unravel key protections for our air, water, and climate. This ruling is a victory for our communities' health and the climate, and we will continue to fight to hold this administration accountable and defend this critical clean air standard."

Echoing Martin, Robin Cooley, an Earthjustice attorney representing tribal and conservation citizen groups, said the decision marked "a tremendous victory for taxpayers, public health, and the planet."

"The court made it clear that the Trump administration is not above the law—Interior Secretary Zinke cannot yank away a common sense rule that was the product of years of careful deliberation simply to appease his friends in the oil and gas industry," Cooley continued.

Added Peter Zalzal, lead attorney with Environmental Defense Fund, the "protections restored by this decision will help to prevent the waste of natural gas, reduce harmful methane, smog-forming and toxic pollution, and ensure communities and tribes have royalty money that can be used to construct roads and schools."

The setback for administration's climate attacks and deregulation agenda follows similar decisions, as The Wilderness Society noted in its press release:

  1. January 16: Wyoming District Court denies industry trade groups and several states request for preliminary injunction, to prevent the rule from going into effect.
  2. May 10: The effort to kill the methane rule via Congressional Review Act fails with bipartisan support, 51 to 49.
  3. October 4: California court overturns the Interior Department’s decision to unilaterally suspend many of the most important protections of the methane waste rule without providing any opportunity for public comment.

The Hill also notes that "The BLM formally proposed earlier this month to repeal most provisions of the methane rule. Thursday's ruling was only on the one-year delay, so it does not directly affect the proposed repeal." Also of note is that when the Obama administration unveiled the BLM rule, some climate groups like 350.org offered just tepid praise, saying that truly protecting communities from "the devastating impacts of climate change means keeping fossil fuels in the ground."


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