California, greens sue Trump administration over fracking rule repeal
California’s attorney general and a coalition of environmental groups are challenging the Trump administration’s repeal of a rule that set standards for hydraulic fracturing for oil and natural gas on federal land.
Xavier Becerra (D), a frequent litigant against Trump, announced a lawsuit Wednesday, saying the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) violated the law when it repealed the rule last month.
“They didn’t follow the law. They didn’t let the law or the facts get in their way in their zeal to repeal what was a commonsense measure. And so California was left with no choice but to take them to court,” Becerra told reporters before filing the lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California.
Becerra accused the BLM of violating both the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.
“They did nothing at BLM to undo the rule with any justification or factual basis, contrary to the way the rule was first issued. And so I think there is plenty of reason to doubt that the fracking repeal engaged in by the Trump administration will withstand scrutiny in court,” he said.
A coalition of environmental groups also filed their own lawsuit against the rule in the same court on Wednesday, the first day it was possible to file cases.
“This is another case of the Trump administration putting our public lands and water at risk to pad the bottom line of the oil and gas industry,” Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman said in a statement.
“The agency has abdicated its responsibility under federal law to manage these lands for the good of the public, not just for fracking companies. We’re filing this case to force BLM to do its job,” he said.
Earthjustice is leading the challenge on behalf of itself, the Sierra Club, the Center for Biological Diversity and other environmental and Native American advocates.
Interior referred questions about the case to the Justice Department, which did not return a request for comment.
The 2015 rule from the Obama administration set numerous standards for fracking on federal land, mainly in requiring companies to disclose the chemicals they use, standards for well casings and covering fracking fluid waste that’s stored outdoors.
The rule was quickly criticized by Republicans and the oil and gas industry as unnecessarily burdensome and costly.
A federal judge halted the rule in 2015, and overturned it in 2016, saying the BLM did not have congressional authority to regulate fracking. An appeals court overturned that decision in 2017.
The Trump administration and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke targeted the fracking rule as part of its “Energy Dominance” agenda, saying it stood as a hurdle to domestic fossil fuel production.
“This final rule is needed to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands,” the BLM said in its December notice of the repeal.
Becerra has filed numerous lawsuits against Trump administration actions to roll back or delay environmental rules, including those on ozone pollution, energy efficiency standards and methane pollution limits, usually in concert with a handful of other Democratic attorneys general around the country.
He has been successful at each turn.
But the lawsuit announced Wednesday is the first Becerra has filed against a finalized environmental regulatory rollback, so it may be a harder case for him to make.
— Rafael Bernal contributed to this report, which was updated at 3:56 p.m.