Constitutional Issues at Stake in Methane Lawsuits

Published September 14, 2016

The attorneys general of 15 states—led by North Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia—filed a lawsuit asking the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to block new methane rules imposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The Obama administration is targeting methane emissions for reduction as part of its effort to reduce purported human-caused climate change. EPA’s new methane rules, intended to reduce oil and gas methane emissions by 40 percent below 2012 levels by 2025, requires the oil and gas industry to repair leaks and limit emissions from equipment used in oil and gas production, including wells, pumps, pipelines, and compressor stations. The methane rules also require more monitoring for possible leaks.

North Dakota filed the first state lawsuit challenging the methane rules in mid-July, followed by Texas on July 29 and the other 13 states on August 2. North Dakota claims the new methane rules are “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law,” while Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said in a statement the rule represents “a gross demonstration of federal overreach.” 

Constitutional Interposition

According to Rob Natelson, senior fellow in constitutional jurisprudence at The Heartland Institute, which publishes Environment & Climate News, it is not uncommon for states to sue to block federal regulations. Natelson says it is part of the process of interposition, in which states defend their residents and businesses from federal laws and regulations that arguably go beyond the authority specifically delegated to the federal government by the U.S. Constitution, or when regulations go beyond what the law specifically allows, or when regulatory agencies do not follow their own rules when enacting new regulations.

“States often sue the federal government or its officials to prevent enforcement of laws or regulations they consider to be unconstitutional,” said Natelson, who recently published a Heartland Policy Brief titled “The States Duty to Defend Against Federal Excess: James Madison and the Methods of Interposition.”

In the Policy Brief, Natelson discusses how interposition by states helps maintain the constitutionally designed balance between federal and state power and individuals’ rights

“States suing the federal government because of overreach or illegal or abusive practices is a form of interposition,” said Natelson.

Ilya Shapiro, senior fellow in constitutional studies at the Cato Institute, says states are challenging EPA for going beyond its legal authority.

“If states are harmed by a federal regulation, they can challenge it if it goes beyond federal power or otherwise violates the relevant statute,” said Shapiro. “This is a claim by an aggrieved party, [the states]. The [federal] government is acting without legal authority.”

Kyle Maichle ([email protected]) is project manager of constitutional reform issues for The Heartland Institute.


Rob Natelson, “The States Duty to Defend Against Federal Excess: James Madison and the Methods of Interposition,” Policy Brief, The Heartland Institute, July 5, 2016: