A United States court has struck down an attempt by the Trump administration to suspend implementation of standards finalized during the last months of Barack Obama’s term, aimed at limiting methane and other emissions from oil and gas well operations.
The Environmental Protection Agency, led by climate denier and frequent fossil fundee Scott Pruitt, had sought to delay the activation of the 2016 regulation by 90 days. The agency argued it was reconsidering the rule, and should not be required to implement it while it was subject to change.
“In a 2-to-1 ruling,” the Washington Post reports, “the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that the EPA had the right to reconsider [the] rule.” Significantly, however, the court ruled that the agency “could not delay the effective date while it sought to rewrite the regulation.” The court will rule separately on an EPA motion to extend the denied delay for as long as two years.
It was the Trump administration’s second attempt to kill the regulation. It was frustrated earlier when the U.S. Senate refused to repeal the rule during a post-transition window to do so.
The decision leaves in place regulations that will require the owners of nearly 20,000 U.S. oil and gas wells drilled or modified since 2015 to find and fix gas leaks in their operations. The EPA had previously estimated that the rule would prevent 11 million tonnes of methane—a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide in the short term—from being released to the atmosphere.
According to the U.S. Environmental Defense Fund, the rules will also prevent the release of up to 4,700 tons of smog-forming volatile organic compounds, and 362,000 pounds of other hazardous air pollutants like cancer-causing benzene.
The decision is another in a string of judicial rulings that have blocked some of the Trump administration’s more extreme initiatives. “The DC Circuit’s ruling today makes clear that neither the president nor his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, can by fiat unilaterally and instantaneously repeal or otherwise stay the effectiveness of the environmental protection rules put into place during the Obama administration,” Harvard environmental law professor Richard Lazarus commented.
“The court says you can consider changing the rules,” added David Doniger, climate director at the U.S. Natural Resources Defense Council, “but you have to do it the normal way, with a comment period. You can’t yank it out of existence on your say-so.”
The principle may have even broader implications for the Trump agenda, the Post suggests, noting that “the ruling could affect myriad agencies that have delayed the Obama administration’s regulations, some for long periods.” For example, it may force the U.S. Interior Department to reverse a decision to delay a rule limiting the flaring of methane from drilling on federal and tribal lands.