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Court blocks U.S. EPA from delaying methane leak rules

Trump Administration had put Obama’s emission regulations on hold

by Jeff Johnson
July 7, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 28

A federal appeals court has nixed the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt to delay implementation of regulations to reduce methane leaks from oil and natural gas drilling and production.

Those Obama Administration regulations were years in preparation and apply only to new and modified oil and gas facilities. When they went into effect in August 2016, they were the first-ever federal regulations to reduce methane from this sector. They would capture some 460,000 metric tons of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by 2025, EPA said last year. They do not apply to existing facilities, which number in the hundreds of thousands.

The Trump Administration in March called for a reexamination of these and other energy-related regulations. In April, after complaints from oil and gas producers, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt granted a 90-day delay to reconsider specific provisions of the methane rules. In June, Pruitt extended the delay for two years while EPA reconsiders the regulations in their entirety.

The court, agreeing with environmental groups that challenged EPA’s move, voided the delay on July 3, calling it “arbitrary, capricious, [and] in excess of statutory … authority.” The administrative record makes clear that EPA provided ample opportunities for the public to comment while the agency crafted the regulations, the court found. Putting them on hold during reconsideration is unnecessary, it said.

The court stressed that nothing in its opinion limits EPA’s authority to reconsider the rules and proceed with formal development of new methane leak regulations.


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