D.C. court hands EPA’s Pruitt a defeat over Obama’s methane rule
In case you missed it, a divided three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday that Scott Pruitt, the Environmental Protection Agency-hating EPA administrator, overstepped his authority by delaying enforcement of the standards in a rule designed by the Obama administration to reduce methane emissions from new equipment at oil and gas operations. The court ordered Pruitt to begin immediate enforcement.
Eighty-six times more potent as a greenhouse gas over a period of 20 years than carbon dioxide, methane emissions have been rising for a decade. While there are numerous sources of methane, emissions from leaky fossil fuel operations have been greatly underestimated. One reason for this? The EPA has accepted industry’s emissions data.
Defending the methane rule from the barbarians
The ruling put a smile on the face of Tim Ballo, an Earthjustice attorney who represented some of the groups who sued over the delay:
“This is a big win for public health and a wake-up call for this administration,” he said in a statement. “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.”
The decision could spell trouble for the Trump administration, which is working to dismantle nearly all of former President Obama’s major environmental rules.
This is about more than just the methane rule
The court’s ruling definitely marks a defeat for the Trump regime’s vow to aggressively roll back the EPA’s and other agencies’ regulations. And it’s a poke in the eye specifically to Pruitt, who as attorney general for Oklahoma had joined a multi-state lawsuit against the methane rule. It was one of the 14 lawsuits against EPA regulations that Pruitt had initiated or joined in as attorney general.
In early June, Pruitt issued a 90-day stay on enforcing the rule in order to allow fossil fuel companies to have a second chance to make public comments. They had sued, claiming that the EPA’s methane rule was adopted without offering them a chance to make comments on four of its elements.
The judges said pfffffft to that claim in their 31-page ruling. Not only, they stated, could the oil and gas companies have commented on the four provisions they challenged, they had done so “in writing, at the Obama-era EPA’s request,” as NPR’s Camila Domonoske reported.
Lawyers for the Trump regime noted that there was an option for exempting pumps from the methane standards that appeared in the proposed rule but was included in the final rule. This, they said, meant fossil fuel companies did not have a chance to offer their assessment of it. The judges noted that this was entirely bogus. They pointed out that the American Petroleum Institute, the industry’s leading trade and lobby group, had itself suggested the pump-exemption provision while the public comment period on the proposed rule was underway.
How do you lose the equivalent of 12 billion tons of coal?
When the final rule’s standards were announced in May 2016, it was noted that these would avert emission of 510,000 tons of unburned methane by 2025. That’s equal to burning more than 12 billion tons of coal, about 14 times the annual production of coal in the United States. In addition, the standards would reduce volatile organic compounds and air toxins. Most of this would be accomplished by improved “leak detection and repair” requirements in the rule.
It’s not just the methane rule Pruitt wants delayed, weakened, or gone—it’s anything the EPA seeks to do in the area of climate. The most direct route to make the EPA stop dealing with climate matters—and the one the hard-core climate science-deniers want to try—is to dump the agency’s “endangerment ruling” altogether.
But doing that will not be easy because the highest court in the land ruled in 2007 that the EPA is required under the Clean Air Act to reduce any gases that it deems are pollutants and could harm people. And the EPA did just that, in December 2009, finding that:
current and projected concentrations of the six key well-mixed greenhouse gases—carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), perfluorocarbons (PFCs), and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6)—in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations.
If a challenge to the endangerment ruling ever does make it to court, perhaps Pruitt will bring his “red team” of industry shills into the courtroom to explain to the justices why most of the world’s climate scientists are numbskulls.