The EPA underneath administrator Scott Pruitt tried to freeze and Obama-era bill that oversaw methane emissions at oil and gas companies, but was denied in D.C. Circuit Court and is forced to continue enforcing it.
The EPA underneath administrator Scott Pruitt tried to freeze and Obama-era bill that oversaw methane emissions at oil and gas companies, but was denied in D.C. Circuit Court and is forced to continue enforcing it.

On July 31, the EPA was ordered by the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to enforce a set of regulations established during the 2016 Clean Air act – regulations they hoped to put a two-year freeze on so their effectiveness could be re-evaluated.

The Obama era regulation that the EPA, headed by President Donald Trump appointee Scott Pruitt, wished to halt was titled Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources. The original ruling established new source performance standards for emissions of greenhouse gases and emissions of volatile organic compounds, specifically within the oil and gas industry.

Courts deny suspension and appeal

On June 5, the EPA issued a statement saying they ceased enforcement efforts of specific statutes within the 2016 ruling for three months.

One statute that was targeted was how leaking emissions from well sites and compressor stations were addressed. Another was a requirement that in certain locations featuring closed vent systems, those systems be inspected and certified by a professional engineer for their design and capacity. The third was that pneumatic pumps at well sites be held to a certain standard, and that those ill-equipped for their specific job be immediately identified.

Following this, the EPA hoped to enact a two-year cessation of enforcement to gather information regarding the cost-to-benefit ratio of all the rules, and also offer new ones if necessary. Both the EPA and those in the oil and gas industry that supported the move stated the agency could act on its own free will to halt enforcement, without first attaining judicial review, according to UPI.

On July 3, in a 2-1 vote, the D.C. Court of Appeals ruled that the EPA did in fact need court approval to suspend any regulation, as dictated by the Clean Air Act. Without official approval, the actions would be deemed illegal. Judges noted the EPA could reassess regulations as they saw fit but could not halt them completely while that occurred.

“The court says you can consider changing the rules but you have to do it the normal way, with a comment period,” said, David Doniger, director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, to UPI. “You can’t yank it out of existence on your say-so.”

Following the ruling by the three-judge panel, a group comprising 12 industry groups and 11 states appealed their case before a full 11-judge panel Aug. 10, according to Energywire, as reported in E & E News. Their request was denied in an 8-3 decision.

After being asked how the EPA was planning on enforcing the rules they hoped to inhibit and reconsider, a spokesman for the organization said, “The agency is considering all available options at this time.”

The group which spearheaded the resistance to the bill, The American Petroleum Institute, was unhappy with the lack of appeal they were granted and stated that the EPA should not have to enforce regulations that it thinks should be reexamined.

“It makes good business and policy sense to allow EPA to stay the rules now, and not subject businesses to on-again, off-again, requirements until EPA can reconsider the rule,” a spokesman said in a statement Aug. 10, according to E & E News.

But overall, the EPA’s continued enforcement of oil and gas emissions regulations is being lauded by environmental groups.

“In a victory for all Americans, the court has once again rejected a lawless attempt to put the lives and health of our families and communities at risk from oil and gas pollution,” said Vickie Patton, Environmental Defense Fund attorney in an official statement. “EPA should do its job, as required by law and as critically necessary for public health, and enforce these commonsense clean air safeguards.”

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