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Court strikes down EPA suspension of Obama-era greenhouse gas rule

Court strikes down EPA suspension of Obama-era greenhouse gas rule
© Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A federal court on Tuesday struck down the Trump administration’s move to suspend an Obama-era rule that restricted the use of a powerful greenhouse gas, saying the Trump administration did not follow the proper procedure. 

After the court ruled in 2017 that part of a rule regarding the use of hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs) was too far-reaching, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) suspended the entire rule without giving the public time to weigh in.

A federal court in Washington, D.C., determined in a 2-1 decision that this was unlawful and reversed the EPA’s 2018 action. 

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“EPA had several options by which it could have attempted to address the perceived difficulties associated with implementing our decision,” wrote Judge Sri Srinivasan. 

“But the one option EPA could not permissibly pursue was the one it chose: promulgating a legislative rule without abiding by notice-and-comment requirements and without invoking any exception to those obligations,” Srinivasan, an Obama appointee, added.

Trump appointee Neomi Rao dissented, writing that the agency had “simply interpreted the immediate and necessary consequences of our decision.”

The Obama rule in question would have phased down the use of HFCs in appliances. The chemicals are often used in refrigerators and air conditioners. 

The court decided in 2017 that the federal government was permitted to prevent companies from switching to HFCs, but could not require those that had already switched to using HFCs to make an additional change. 

After this, the EPA suspended the rule entirely. 

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The agency has the option to appeal the ruling. An EPA spokesperson told The Hill in an email that the agency was “reviewing the decision.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), meanwhile, which had challenged the EPA’s action, celebrated Tuesday’s decision. 

“This is a great victory for climate,” NRDC staff attorney Pete DeMarco told The Hill. 

“The court’s decision restores common-sense restrictions on HFC use that EPA had illegally removed and now EPA has to ensure that as companies complete their transition away from ozone-depleting substances, they switch to alternatives that are safer than these HFCs which are extremely potent greenhouse gases,” DeMarco added.