Court Rules Trump Administration Must Enforce Obama Methane Rules

Published November 7, 2017

In a legal setback for President Donald Trump, the Interior Department was ordered by a federal judge to immediately begin enforcing restrictions on the release of methane emissions from oil and gas exploration and production operations on public lands. The restrictions were imposed by former President Barack Obama shortly before he left office.

The Obama administration had passed the rules in 2016, but when Trump administration delayed enforcing them, California and some other states sued to force the administration’s hand, arguing the Interior Department is required by law to enforce existing rules intended to cut the release of 175,000 tons of the methane and other emissions annually.

The Trump administration had asked the court to delay enforcement of the rule while it developed a strategy to rescind and replace it with a rule of its own. The administration argued the Obama era regulation was duplicative of already existing state rules and accomplished nothing for the environment while adding new costs to the oil and gas industry. Congress fell short of the needed votes to rescind the regulation through the use of the Congressional review act in early 2017.

In her October 4 decision requiring the Interior Department to begin enforcing the rule U.S. District Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte in San Francisco ruled the department cannot legally postpone a rule that already has taken effect. She also said she was unconvinced the administration would soon would have different regulations in place, noting the process for replacing the rules could take months and ultimately may not stand up to legal challenges.

H. Sterling Burnett, Ph.D., ([email protected]) is the managing editor of Environment & Climate News.