Court blocks Trump’s ‘unlawful’ delay of Obama methane leak rule

Court blocks Trump’s ‘unlawful’ delay of Obama methane leak rule

A federal court ruled late Wednesday that the Trump administration broke the law when it tried this summer to delay an Obama administration rule related to greenhouse gas released through oil and natural gas drilling.

Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the District Court for the Northern District of California said the Interior Department cannot use a provision in the Administrative Procedure Act to delay the rule on methane emissions on federal land, as it tried to do in June.

The ruling represents another bump in the road on the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda, in which officials are looking to significantly alter or rescind Obama-era regulations across different agencies of government.

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It means that for now, the January 2018 compliance date for the rule is in effect.

The Interior Department’s June delay tried to push the compliance date off until pending lawsuits against it are resolved. But the Trump administration is also working to repeal or revise the rule, so the delay would have given officials room to do that.

And earlier Wednesday, the agency said it will formally propose to push the compliance date to January 2019, under a different legal provision than the one at issue in the lawsuit decided Wednesday.

The Wednesday ruling is at least the third time that federal courts have dinged the Trump administration for trying to delay a regulation that had already taken effect, but for which the compliance date had not yet passed.

The Interior Department recently got a similar ruling on its attempt to delay a rule to change how the government values oil, natural gas and coal that private companies extract from federal land. A court also shot down the Environmental Protection Agency bid to delay its own rule on methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

In the case decided Wednesday, the agency's Bureau of Land Management tried to argue that since it is allowed to postpone the “effective date” of a rule, it can also postpone the “compliance date,” which is in January 2018.

“Effective and compliance dates have distinct meanings,” the judge wrote, noting that the rule became effective in January 2017, under the Obama administration, but companies did not have to comply for a year.

“Not only is this argument contrary to the plain language of the statute, but it collapses the clear statutory distinction between the two periods before and after a rule takes effect,” she said, declaring the delay to be “unlawful” and overturning it.

The case was filed by California, New Mexico and other Democratic states, joined by environmental groups.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and is a greenhouse gas about 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide.