5 October 2017

Federal judge orders Trump administration to reinstate methane emissions restricting regulation

A federal judge on Wednesday ordered the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) to reintroduce a regulation imposed by the Obama administration aimed at restricting methane emissions from oil and gas production on federal lands.

The Interior Department had attempted to delay the regulation until 2019, claiming it would financially affect the gas and oil industry.

US Magistrate Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the northern district of California ordered the entire rule reinstated effective immediately, saying that DOI had failed to provide a robust justification of its decision to postpone the taking effect of the rule.

In addition, DOI had not provided detailed explanation on why the analysis that had been submitted by the Obama administration was faulty.

The regulation was finalised on November 2016, and forced energy companies to capture methane, the primary component of natural gas, that is burnt off or “flared” at drilling sites on public lands during production.

The aim of the regulation was dual; to reduce harmful methane emissions and to save an estimated $300m a year that are wasted through leaks or intentional releases that otherwise would be enough to power 5 million households per year.

Michael Saul, a Senior Attorney with the Centre for Biological Diversity, - one of the groups that challenged the Trump rule, said: “It’s a good thing the courts are protecting Americans from oil and gas industry pollution, because the Trump administration has completely abdicated that responsibility”.

“The methane rule puts modest constraints on a dirty practice that endangers public health and wastes billions of taxpayer dollars”.

He added: “President Donald Trump and the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke are not above the law and the court has made it clear they have to stop putting polluters above the people they were sworn to protect”.

Surprisingly, the court ruling followed a defeat in Congress, when three Republicans joined the Democrats in voting to uphold the rule leading the Senate to turn back the bid.

The vote obligated the Interior Department to pledge to suspend, revise or rescind the regulation.

DOI had said that the methane rule imposed a significant regulatory burden for the American energy production, economic growth and job creation, especially in North Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico.

Jenny Kordick, an energy policy expert for The Wilderness Society commented: “Rolling back the methane waste rule makes no sense and is yet another example of the lengths this administration will go to sell out our public lands”.

Tom Udall, the Democratic Senator of New Mexico said that the methane rule will provide “badly needed revenue to states such as New Mexico for public education” and other services, as an estimated $100 million in taxpayer-owned natural gas was wasted each year from oil and gas wells.

“This rule is simply good policy good for taxpayers, good for the economy and good for the environment”.

The judge ruling will go through a 30-day public comment period beginning on Thursday, and Tom Udall along with other Democrats have invited the public to speak out. 

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