Appeals Court Rebuffs Trump's EPA on Methane Emissions Suspension

In a win for the environment, a D.C. Circuit panel ruled that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt could not arbitrarily suspend the starting date of a landmark Obama rule that would reduce methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas wells.
July 6, 2017, 1pm PDT | Irvin Dawid
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How times have changed for the environment since the Obama Administration, when a court win for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under then-administrator Gina McCarthy was generally considered to be a win for the environment. 

"In a 2-to-1 ruling [pdf], the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that the EPA had the right to reconsider a 2016 rule limiting methane and smog-forming pollutants emitted by oil and gas wells but could not delay the effective date while it sought to rewrite the regulation," report Juliet Eilperin and Steven Mufson for The Washington Post.

On June 5, six environmental groups—Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthworks, Clean Air Council, and the Sierra Club—filed suit to block the 90-day suspension of the nation's first federal rule to limit methane emissions, an integral part of President Obama's climate initiative.

The court’s ruling is yet another reminder, now in the context of environmental protection, that the federal judiciary remains a significant obstacle to the president’s desire to order immediate change,” Richard Lazarus, an environmental-law professor at Harvard Law School, said in an email.

Sierra Club Chief Climate Counsel Joanne Spalding released the following statement in a press release:

“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.These emission standards for new oil and gas sources are a critical step toward protecting communities from dangerous air pollution and addressing climate change."

While there is no word whether EPA will appeal the ruling, they will have a second court hearing on a two-year delay of the methane rule they issued on June 13. The Department of Interior also delayed an Obama-era rule to limit methane emissions on federal lands after the Senate failed to use the Congressional Review Act to rescind it. However, the July 3 court ruling may affect that roll back as well.

“The court says you can consider changing the rules but you have to do it the normal way, with a comment period,” said David Doniger, director of the climate and clean-air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You can’t yank it out of existence on your say-so.”

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Scott Pruitt

Love him or hate him, all agree that Scott Pruitt has proven to be very effective at his job of rolling back environmental regulations and influencing the Trump Administration. On Tuesday evening, Eilperin appeared on the PBS NewsHour to explain the methane emissions ruling and the impact that Pruitt is having on the administration, calling him one of "the most effective" cabinet members in determining policy and achieving positive outcomes for the administration.

I think that folks who are a fan of what Scott Pruitt are doing and those who oppose him would say that he’s clearly emerged as one of the most effective Cabinet members. We have seen him already take action on a slew of policies. It’s nearly 30 rules that — or major decisions that he has reversed in some ways.

And so what we’re seeing, is even though he only has a handful of appointees in place at this point, he has managed to manipulate the leaders of power quite effectively in a way that certainly it is taking some of his counterparts in other departments longer to master.

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Published on Monday, July 3, 2017 in The Washington Post
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