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US court blocks Trump administration’s attempt to delay methane leak measures

26 February 2018

The Trump administration must start enforcing an Obama administration rule limiting methane leaks from oil and natural gas drilling on federal land, a US court ruled on February 22. The District Court for the District of Northern California, granted a preliminary injunction against the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM), blocking a November action that tried to delay enforcement of the Obama-era rule for one year.

Stock image
Stock image

“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 the ruling.

“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,” he went on to say.

The lawsuit was brought by Democratic states and environmental groups.

The Obama rule at issue in the ruling was written in 2016. It required oil and gas drillers on federal and tribal land to take numerous steps to limit emissions of methane, which is the main component of natural gas and a potent greenhouse gas. It applied both to full releases of the gas and to flaring, the process of burning gas as it comes out of the well.

Republicans and the oil industry have long complained that the rule is duplicative and unnecessarily costly, while Democrats and environmentalists say it significantly reduces wasted methane and greenhouse gas pollution.

The BLM formally proposed earlier this month to repeal most provisions of the methane rule.
This ruling was only on the one-year delay, so it does not directly affect the proposed repeal. But Democratic states and environmental groups are likely to sue when the repeal action is made final.

The decision is yet another in a series of court losses by the Trump administration in its aggressive drive to repeal, delay or change Obama’s environmental legacy.

Last week, another judge ruled that the Energy Department must implement four Obama energy efficiency rules. Courts have ruled against Trump on regulatory matters pertaining to royalty standards for federal land, a separate Environmental Protection Agency rule on methane emissions and more.

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