Appeals Court Thwarts Trump Effort to Stall Implementation of Methane Rules

August 7, 2017

Although the fight remains ongoing, a recent U.S. Court of Appeals decision requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to immediately enforce Obama-era rules intended to reduce emissions from new oil and gas operations.

On July 31, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit issued a mandate striking down the EPA’s stay of the Obama administration’s methane regulations. These standards, designed to reduce methane leaks from new oil and gas operations, have been the target of industry advocates since their initial proposal in 2016. The Trump administration aims to scrap these and similar restrictions, which it argues are an unnecessary hindrance to the production of natural resources and ignore voluntary efforts by the industry to reduce emissions. 

After industry advocates requested that these rules be reconsidered, the EPA issued a 90-day administrative stay premised on a Clean Air Act provision allowing it to do so after granting a petition for reconsideration. Environmental groups filed a lawsuit in response, challenging the stay as outside the scope of the EPA’s authority. On July 3, 2017, a three-judge panel agreed with the petitioners, stating that the industry’s reconsideration request was invalid because the issues raised had already been addressed during the initial rulemaking process. States and industry advocates immediately requested that a full 11-judge panel reconsider the decision, resulting in a 9-2 ruling on July 31 that formally vacated the stay and ordered the EPA to enforce the new methane standards. 

Industry groups have requested a rehearing on the issue, and the Court of Appeals is expected to issue a decision soon. If the court does not grant rehearing, then the EPA will have to continue to enforce the standards while it undergoes a public notice and comment process intended to delay the rule’s implementation for another two years. Thus, although the Obama-era rules remain in place for now, the future of the new methane standards and others remains unclear.