The Trump administration must immediately begin enforcing the methane rule adopting during the Obama administration, a federal court ruled on Monday. The administration had wanted to either delay or to scrap the rule altogether, arguing that the previous White House failed to let stakeholders weigh in on the matter.
The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia said that Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency had no rights to ask for any delay of the methane rule. That regulation limits methane emissions from oil and gas operations while also giving drillers the incentive to capture and sell that fuel to manufacturers and chemical makers. EPA had wanted to delay the rule for two years before making preparations to repeal it altogether.
The court essentially said that EPA can review internally the rule but that the agency cannot delay rules that have been enacted unless it can cite a legal precedence. “Indeed, EPA’s reading would have the perverse result of empowering this court to act when the agency denies a stay but not when it chooses to grant one,” the judges wrote, in a 2-to-1 ruling.
Scott Pruitt and the EPA say that they are now trying to decide their next move, which could be to rewrite the Obama-era rule. Such a move would undoubtedly prompt a rash of lawsuits from environmental groups — just as its efforts did to try and delay enforcement of the methane rule.
The methane rule, enacted in May 2016, had been part of the Obama administration’s overall effort to cut the level of methane gas emissions by 40-45 percent by the year 2025, from 2012 levels. If escaping natural gas could be captured and resold, industry could increase its revenues by as much as $188 million a year, it added.
According to scientists, methane is 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat, although it dissipates after 20 years whereas the carbon dioxide stays active for 100 years.
Trump’s EPA had been more sympathetic to the oil and gas producers, who said that the rule is too onerous and that it duplicates those already monitored by the states.
Furthermore, the American Petroleum Institute pointed to a study by EPA that said methane emissions have been falling, making the trade group question why new rules have even been necessary. The report released in March shows that methane emissions from all petroleum systems decreased by 28 percent since 1990. EPA attributed this improvement to decreases in emissions from associated gas venting and flaring.
“This is a big win for public health and a wake-up call for this administration,” Tim Ballow, Earthjustice attorney said in a statement, as reported by The Hill. “While Scott Pruitt and Donald Trump continue to bend over backwards to do the bidding of Big Oil, Earthjustice and our clients and partners will use every tool at our disposal to hold them fully accountable for their actions.”
Altogether, roughly 375 billion cubic feet of methane has entered the atmosphere over five years, ending 2014, Obama’s Interior Department said. If that methane was captured and resold, it could not just cut the level of heat-trapping emissions but it could also go to productive use by helping heat homes and businesses.
A General Accountability Office study said that 40 percent of that could be captured, meaning that investments in current technologies could easily pay off.