Court Blocks E.P.A. Effort to Suspend Obama-Era Methane Rule

Dealing another legal blow to the Trump administration, a federal appeals court ruled on July 3, 2017 that the Environmental Protection Agency cannot suspend an Obama-era rule to restrict methane emissions from new oil and gas wells.

The 2-to-1 decision from the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit is the first major legal setback for Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, who is trying to roll back dozens of Obama-era environmental regulations. The ruling signals that President Trump’s plans to erase his predecessor’s environmental record are likely to face an uphill battle in the courts.

A number of other E.P.A. actions to undo regulations it inherited, including a rule on landfills and another on chemical spills, are likely to receive close scrutiny from the courts because of this ruling.

In upholding green groups’ efforts to end the E.P.A.’s 90-day stay over parts of the regulation, the appeals court ruled that the agency’s decision was “unreasonable,” “arbitrary” and “capricious.” The agency, it said, did not have authority under the Clean Air Act to block the rule.

The judges said the agency would have to undertake a new rule-making process to undo the regulation.

Methane is a potent greenhouse gas 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide.

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