By - Jim Vess

Court ruling on methane comes from one of 60 climate lawsuits filed against Trump administration

Energize Weekly, February 28, 2018

Trump administration efforts to roll back methane controls on oil and gas operations were blocked by a federal court ruling last week in one of the 60 lawsuits filed against the administration on climate change issues.

On Feb. 22, Judge William Orrick, in the U.S. Northern District of California, granted a preliminary injunction against the federal Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) plan to delay enforcement of the Obama-era Methane and Waste Prevention Rule for public lands.

“The BLM’s reasoning behind the Suspension Rule is untethered to evidence contradicting the reasons for implementing the Waste Prevention Rule, and so plaintiffs are likely to prevail on the merits,” Judge Orrick wrote in his ruling.

“They have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts,” he wrote.

Orrick, an Obama appointee, chided BLM for using inconsistent assumptions in developing its regulatory impact analysis and ignoring public comments related to the rule’s cost.

Such rulings from federal courts around the country are becoming familiar as a barrage of lawsuits have been filed to oppose Trump administration environmental policies.

For example, in July, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) could not suspend another Obama administration rule to limit methane emissions from new oil and gas operations.

In all the 60 lawsuits on climate-related issues were filed in 2017 to block regulatory rollbacks, to prevent delays in implementing rules, to defend scientific integrity, and obtain transparency on administration decisions, according to an analysis by Dena Adler, a fellow at Columbia University’s Sabin Center for Climate Change Law.

“In its first year, the Trump Administration set a high-water mark for climate change deregulation, but extralegal rollbacks have been constrained by the courts through vigilant litigation,” Adler wrote.

The Sabin Center’s U.S. Climate Deregulation Tracker identifies 64 actions taken by the executive branch in 2017 to deregulate climate change. These actions take aim at least two dozen climate-related protections.

Among those actions were attempts to delay or reverse rules that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from stationary and mobile sources, and regulations to improve energy efficiency standards. Other steps included undermining consideration of climate change in environmental reviews and seeking to expedite fossil fuel development, including in previously protected areas.

“The Trump Administration’s efforts have met with constant resistance, with those committed to climate protections bringing legal challenges to many, if not most, of the rollbacks,” the study said.

Among the issues that drew lawsuits were the Department of Interior (DOI) plan to lift a moratorium on coal lease sales on public land, the approvals for the Keystone XL and Dakota pipelines, the EPA plan to repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan (which aims to cut power plant carbon emissions) and EPA delays in issuing “New Source Performance” emission rules.

Environmental groups and other non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, were involved in 55 percent of the challenges. State and local governments, their agencies and tribes were plaintiffs or petitioners in 28 percent of the cases. Local groups and private citizens were also plaintiffs in several lawsuits.

More than a dozen federal departments and agencies were sued, but 55 percent of the climate cases filed against federal defendants in 2017 challenged the DOI, EPA or their agencies.

In addition to what Adler called “pro climate” legal actions, there were 22 lawsuits filed to loosen rules or deregulate activities. These were primarily brought by industry groups and companies.

Fourteen cases sought to defend Obama climate change policies. There has been some resolution in six of the cases with federal courts finding an administrative delay and a compliance postponement to be illegal. One administrative stay case was voluntarily dismissed after the stay terminated and the agency withdrew its plans to delay the rule. Three cases pressured publication of two delayed rules by the relevant agencies.

The Trump administration announcement in March 2017 that it was lifting an Obama moratorium on public lands coal leasing drew two lawsuits. One is from seven environmental organizations and the Northern Cheyenne Tribe. The complaint, filed in Montana federal district, contends the move violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Administrative Procedure Act (APA).

A second lawsuit brought by California, New Mexico, New York and Washington also argued violations of NEPA and the APA, as well as the Mineral Leasing Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act. Both suits are pending.

In another coal-related lawsuit brought by the Sierra Club and WildEarth Guardians, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, which has jurisdiction in Colorado, Kansas, Utah, New Mexico, Oklahoma and Wyoming, ruled in September that BLM had failed to properly account for carbon emissions in awarding Wyoming coal leases.

The other 46 lawsuits “concerned transparency, environmental review and permitting, or advancing other climate protections,” the study said.

For example, six Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuits are seeking to investigate EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt for allegedly unethical practice, illegal conduct or climate denial.

“Many of these cases remained pending at the end of the Trump Administration’s first year,” the Sabin study said. “These cases reflect existing trends in climate change litigation, such as enforcing obligations to consider climate change effects under NEPA, but also indicate potentially new developments, such as an uptick in FOIA litigation.”

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