Court slaps down Trump team’s rollback of key air pollution rule

An Exxon fracking explosion spawned one of the worst methane carbon pollution releases in US history

Screenshot / Twitter

Late on Wednesday a federal judge invalidated the Trump administration’s rollback of methane pollution safeguards.

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers found that the administration failed to properly account for environmental and public health impacts. Rogers also rejected all attempts to downplay the impacts of rising methane pollution on the climate crisis. The ruling forces the oil and gas industry to prevent gas waste on federal and Indigenous lands. The Obama-era Waste Prevention Rule will go back into effect in ninety days. This is the latest in a series of the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back limits to methane pollution.

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Earthjustice explains the Waste Prevention Rule and Trump’s efforts to rescind the ruling:

Enacted in 2016, the Waste Prevention Rule was designed to protect the public from wasteful venting, flaring, and leaking of gas from drilling operations on federal and tribal lands. In 2018, the Trump administration’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) rescinded this rule to give oil and gas companies operating on public lands a free pass for air and climate pollution from wasted gas.

“The judge basically rejected every attempt by the Trump administration to gut these common-sense waste prevention measures on behalf of their oil & gas industry cronies,” Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley said. “Most importantly the judge said the administration cannot ignore the impacts on health and well-being of the people who live near oil and gas facilities.”

In the court’s opinion, the ruling is detailed:

[It] finds that the rulemaking process resulting in the Rescission was wholly inadequate. In its haste, BLM ignored its statutory mandate under the Mineral Leasing Act, repeatedly failed to justify numerous reversals in policy positions previously taken, and failed to consider scientific findings and institutions relied upon by both prior Republican and Democratic administrations.

The judge rejected Trump’s methane pollution rollbacks just hours after the president weakened NEPA.

Rogers says Trump’s attempts to roll back methane pollution standards was a “backwards approach to rulemaking,” according to Politico. She wrote that the repeal violated National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Administrative Procedure Act and the Mineral Leasing Act.

The court’s ruling came through hours after President Trump weakened NEPA. The Trump administration claimed the adjustments to NEPA would save hundreds of millions of dollars. Weakening NEPA will reduce the amount of time necessary for pipelines, power plants, and freeways to receive permits.

The New York Times explains how Trump’s actions to weaken environmental safeguards elevate the stakes in the 2020 election. A Democratic president could reinstate NEPA with a majority vote on Capitol Hill and his or her signature.

Editors note: This piece was produced in partnership with Earth Day Network. We hope you’ll click here to promise to Vote Earth in 2020.

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