US Appeals Court Upholds Methane Emissions Rule

02.08.2017 -

A federal appeals court in Washington, DC, at the end of July handed Scott Pruitt, the new administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), another setback in his effort to roll back legislation passed by the administration of former President Barack Obama.

The  9-2 decision by the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, ordering the EPA to implement the order to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells, came after the judges had given the agency a two-week reprieve from its ruling earlier in July.

Despite the reprieve, reports said the Trump administration has still not asked for the entire 11-judge court to rehear its case, the standard next step for appealing a ruling of a three-judge panel. Industry groups and conservative states opposed to the regulation have asked for the full-court repeal, however, and the judges will consider this request in the coming weeks.

Parallel to this, the EPA is also actively attempting to delay the regulation’s implementation for another two years. The agency is currently gathering public comment, until Aug. 9. Depending on the outcome, it could subsequently make the delay final.

The new EPA administration had said that during the time it took to review issues associated with the requirements to limit methane leaks, companies would not have to comply with the rules.

In the first instance, the DC district court said that a lengthy delay was "tantamount to amending or revoking a rule." It also called the agency’s decision “unreasonable,” “arbitrary” and “capricious,” as it did not have the legal authority to block the rule.

The methane rulings may just be the start of the legal pendulum swinging back to the environmentalist side and thwarting the Trump administration’s plans to undo Obama era legislation, the PowerPost energy blog of US newspaper Washington Post said.

Commenting on the appeals verdict, Peter Zalzal, lead attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the groups that challenged the EPA’s delay plans, said: “Today's issuance of the mandate by the full DC Circuit protects families and communities across America under clean air safeguards that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt sought to unlawfully tear down.”