The Bureau of Land Management knows what it wants the Methane Waste and Prevention Rule to look like, but the courts have something else in mind.
The U.S. District Court for the North District of California ruled Thursday that the federal government did not justify its decision to suspend and rewrite this rule, which was set to regulate emissions of methane, a greenhouse gas 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide. Federal District Court Judge William Orrick issued a preliminary injunction, forcing the bureau to enforce the rule—for now. He deemed the suspension “arbitrary and capricious” in his ruling.
“[Plaintiffs] have shown irreparable injury caused by the waste of publicly owned natural gas, increased air pollution and associated health impacts, and exacerbated climate impacts,” Orrick’s ruling states.
Former President Barack Obama finalized this rule to reduce the amount of gas wasted during the flaring, venting, and leaks during oil and gas production, a few months before departing office. However, in June under President Donald Trump, the BLM moved to suspend parts of the rule that hadn’t already taken effect.
This court decision is the latest setback for the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back methane regulations on public and tribal lands. Already, this same court (under a different judge) has deemed the administration’s move illegal. That came after the Senate surprisingly voted in May against repealing this Obama-era rule under an act that would have made their decision difficult to reverse.
“The court’s decision to block [Interior] Secretary [Ryan] Zinke’s unlawful suspension ensures the Waste Prevention Rule remains in place, protecting tribes, ranchers, and families across the West,” said Peter Zalzal, an attorney with plaintiff Environmental Defense Fund, in a press release. “The protections restored by today’s decision will help to prevent the waste of natural gas, reduce harmful methane, smog-forming and toxic pollution, and ensure communities and tribes have royalty money that can be used to construct roads and schools.”
Other plaintiffs include the states of California and New Mexico, as well as other environmental groups. Their concerns include not just the increasing greenhouse gas emissions entering the atmosphere, but also the pollutants that accompany those emissions: benzene and hydrogen sulfide, among others. And who lives closest to these types of oil- and gas-producing facilities? People of color.