Energy & Environment

Court OKs Trump repeal of Obama public lands fracking rule

A federal judge on Friday upheld the Trump administration’s decision to repeal an Obama-era rule that established standards for hydraulic fracking on federal land. 

California and several environmental groups sued over the repeal, claiming it was unlawful. California particularly claimed that the federal government was in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act and the National Environmental Policy Act.

However, Judge Haywood S. Gilliam Jr., an Obama appointee, sided with the Trump administration, writing: “The record does not compel the conclusion that [the Bureau of Land Management] arbitrarily ignored foregone benefits or arbitrarily overvalued the costs associated with the 2015 Rule, as California Plaintiffs urge.”

“Although BLM could have provided more detail, it did enough to clear the low bar of arbitrary and capricious review, and that is all the law requires,” he added. 

The 2015 Obama administration rule would have required companies to say what chemicals they use in fracking, make them cover surface ponds that contain fracking fluids and also set well construction standards.

But it never went into effect because it was temporarily halted by federal Judge Scott Skavdahl in 2015. The judge later overturned the rule in 2016.

The Interior Department celebrated the court’s decision on Friday, saying in a statement that it will “allow the Department to continue to implement the President’s direction to repeal overly burdensome regulations and ensure America’s energy independence, while protecting the safety of our workers and the health of our environment.”

“We are grateful the Court has affirmed that the Department’s actions were fully compliant with all legal requirements,” it added. 

An adviser to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) told The Hill that they are reviewing the decision.

The Sierra Club, one of the groups that sued over the repeal, is also reviewing the decision and will consider its options. 

“Fracking on public and tribal lands puts our air, water, and communities at risk,” Sierra Club senior attorney Nathan Matthews said in a statement. “The Trump administration was wrong to rescind this commonsense protection, and it’s disappointing that the court is allowing this dangerous rollback to stand.” 

The American Petroleum Institute, meanwhile, hailed the judge’s decision. 

“Adding a layer of duplicative federal regulations would not improve on the success of existing state and tribal regulations. Today’s decision affirms that repeal of the rule is sound public policy,” the industry group said in a statement.  

Updated March 27, 4:05 p.m.

Tags fracking Xavier Becerra

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