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Court temporarily pauses EPA methane emissions rollback

Court temporarily pauses EPA methane emissions rollback
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A court has temporarily halted an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that rescinded Obama-era standards for methane emissions from the oil and gas sector, preventing the rollback from taking effect for the time being. 

A panel of three federal judges issued a procedural pause on the rule called an administrative stay while the court decides whether to halt it for a longer period of time.

They wrote that the order “should not be construed in any way as a ruling on the merits” of whether to grant the longer pause. 

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The EPA rule, issued last month, would eliminate requirements to regulate methane emissions from the production, processing, transmission and storage of oil and gas. They also rescind standards that regulate volatile organic compounds, a type of chemical, from oil and gas transmission and storage. 

The change is expected to allow an additional 450,000 tons of methane and 120,000 tons of volatile organic compounds to be emitted into the air over a 10-year period. 

Methane is a greenhouse gas that is significantly more powerful than carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat and critics say the changes will exacerbate climate change. 

An EPA spokesperson declined to comment on the pause, saying the agency doesn’t comment on pending litigation. 

When it issued the rule, the Trump administration defended its changes, saying that specifically regulating methane emissions was redundant and that the regulations overlapped with those covering volatile organic compounds. 

This determination differed from an Obama administration analysis in 2016 that found that while standards for such compounds also “incidentally” reduce methane emissions, a methane-specific standard would “achieve meaningful GHG [greenhouse gas] reductions and will be an important step towards mitigating the impact of GHG emissions on climate change.”

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The EPA also said that its changes would reduce regulatory burdens on industry, particularly small producers. Major oil companies have come out against the changes, saying that regulating methane is important for protecting the environment. 

The administrative pause came as part of litigation against the rules following a lawsuit from environmental and tribal groups. A coalition of 20 states and four municipalities also sued over the regulations. 

Methane is the primary component of natural gas and is leaked into the atmosphere during gas production, transportation and storage. Natural gas and petroleum systems are the second largest source of methane emissions in the country, behind only agriculture