- The Washington Times - Monday, July 3, 2017

A federal court Monday dealt a blow to President Trump and upheld an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions from oil and gas wells, delivering a legal setback to the EPA’s attempt to undo virtually all of the previous administration’s environmental rules.

In a 2-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit canceled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s 90-day stay on the methane rule, which he announced about a month ago. The stay temporarily suspended the methane regulation initially put in place in August 2016. The rule requires oil and gas well operators to to monitor and limit emissions at drilling sites.

The stay came at the direct urging of the fossil fuels industry, which said the rule represented a massive financial and regulatory burden. The Obama EPA itself estimated compliance costs could be as high as $530 million.

In justifying the 90-day delay, Mr. Pruitt argued that the oil industry hadn’t had enough time to weigh in before the rule went into effect. But the court flatly rejected that argument.

“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 majority wrote in its opinion.

The EPA said it is now reviewing its legal options.

The regulation was seen by environmentalists as a major step forward in their effort to crack own on emissions from oil and gas wells. The proposal targeted a host of equipment across the oil-and-gas sector, and companies were required to institute new testing measures to monitor equipment.

The Obama EPA estimated that the rule would cut more than 500,000 tons of methane pollution by 2025.

The court’s decision Monday does not mean the regulation is here to stay. Mr. Pruitt still can move forward and eliminate it, but the agency will have to undertake a formal rule making process, which likely would take at least a year.

While the administration surely will move to scrap the rule for good, environmentalists saw the court’s decision as a major victory in their legal effort to slow down the administration’s regulatory rollback.

“Today’s ruling makes clear that Scott Pruitt lacks the authority to slam the brakes on common-sense methane pollution rules that help protect the climate and communities living near oil and gas wells,” said Tim Ballo, an attorney with the environmental group Earthjustice. “This is a big win for public health and a wake-up call for this administration. While Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump continue to bend over backwards to do the bidding of big oil, Earthjustice and our clients and partners will use every tool at our disposal to hold them fully accountable for their actions.”

Prior to announcing the 90-day stay, Mr. Pruitt had openly discussed implementing a two-year delay. While it’s unclear how such a delay would play in court after Monday’s ruling, green groups fully expect Mr. Pruitt to push forward and do whatever he can legally to halt the methane rule.

“Unfortunately, the threats to these common sense clean air protections are far from over,” said Vickie Patton, general counsel with the Environmental Defense Fund.

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