Friday, April 06, 2018

Methane Whiplash:  Enviros Prep Appeal As Court Ices Rule

A Wyoming court Wensday sidelined core provisions of an Obama-era rule that would limit venting, flaring and leakage of methane on public lands. (Credit: NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory) Click to Enlarge.
On-again, off-again Obama-era standards for methane emissions on public lands are off, again.

A federal court in Wyoming Wednesday halted core parts of the Bureau of Land Management's methane venting and flaring rule, which had been fully revived by a different court six weeks ago.

"Obviously we are disappointed, and we think the ruling just simply disregards fundamental legal principles," Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley said.

A coalition of environmental groups represented by Earthjustice is planning to appeal the decision.

Supporters of the Obama rule are feeling whiplashed after notching a major victory in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in February, when that court revived the regulation in full.

Oil and gas companies, meanwhile, are breathing a sigh of relief.  They've spent the past month pushing the U.S. District Court for the District of Wyoming — which has been managing industry challenges to the rule since 2016 — to pause the newly revived provisions.

BLM is working on a bigger rollback of the rule, and companies should not be forced to comply in the meantime, they argued.

"It's a commonsense ruling," said Dan Naatz, who handles government affairs for the Independent Petroleum Association of America.  "Not only are our members not able to comply, the agency is not ready to try to tackle all this."

The Trump administration has repeatedly tried but failed to kill the Obama standards, which aim to reduce methane venting, flaring and leakage on public and tribal lands.  Methane is a potent greenhouse gas, and escaped quantities cost taxpayers money in the form of lost royalties.

Drillers and several Western states have argued that the rule exceeds BLM's authority and requires costly upgrades.  That burden is even worse now, they argue, because they spent most of last year assuming that the Trump administration's initial efforts to sideline the rule would succeed.

But Judge Scott Skavdahl, an Obama appointee to the Wyoming court, agreed with industry that it "makes little sense" to force them to comply with the standards when the agency is in the middle of crafting a broader revision of the rule that would roll back the key provisions opposed by industry.

"To force temporary compliance with those provisions makes little sense and provides minimal public benefit, while significant resources may be unnecessarily expended," he wrote.

Environmental groups expect to file their appeal soon at the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.  The offices of California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, both Democrats who have also defended the Obama standards in court, did not respond by publication time to questions about whether they plan to appeal.

Naatz said he wasn't surprised about environmentalists' planned appeal, given the regulation's long and litigious history:  "It's never over."

'That is deeply problematic'
Cooley, the Earthjustice lawyer, said the Wyoming court's decision is flawed because it amounts to an injunction of the methane standards, but the court did not apply the standard legal test for such a move.

Read more at Methane Whiplash:  Enviros Prep Appeal As Court Ices Rule

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