Court asks Trump lawyers if they’ll defend Obama’s fracking rule

Court asks Trump lawyers if they’ll defend Obama’s fracking rule
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A federal appeals court is asking the Trump administration if it plans to defend an Obama administration rule regulating hydraulic fracturing on federal land.

In a filing late Thursday, the Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit asked the Justice Department and Interior Department to file a statement by Wednesday saying whether the government’s position on the rule changed when President Trump was inaugurated.

The appeals court has scheduled oral arguments March 22 in a case concerning whether Interior’s 2015 fracking rule is permissible under the law.

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“Given the recent change of administration and the related personnel changes in the Department of Justice and the Department of Interior, the court is concerned that the briefing filed by the federal appellants in these cases may no longer reflect the position of the federal appellants,” the court’s clerk wrote in the filing, asking lawyers to state “whether their position on the issues presented remain the same, or have now changed.”

Trump promised on the campaign trail to repeal any policies that “impose unwarranted restrictions on new drilling technologies,” a category that likely includes fracking.

But since Inauguration Day in January, the Trump administration has told neither the court nor the public how it plans to deal with the fracking rule.

In his January confirmation hearing, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke deferred when asked about the rule, saying he had not been briefed on it.

The regulation at issue sets standards in three areas for federal-land fracking: disclosure of the chemicals used to frack, integrity of the well casing and protection of waste materials.

Judge Scott Skavdahl of the federal District Court for the District of Wyoming struck the rule down last year in a lawsuit brought by industry and some states, saying Congress specifically prohibited Interior from regulating fracking.

The Obama administration appealed, saying Skavdahl erred in his ruling.

If the Trump administration chooses not to continue with the appeal, the court would likely delay proceedings to allow new briefs to be filed.

A coalition of environmental groups, led by Earthjustice, is also participating in the case to defend the fracking regulation. The court may allow those groups to lead the defense of the rule if the government declines to do so.