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Appellate Court Grants Trump Administration Request to Delay Cases Over Methane Rules

An appellate court granted the Trump administration's request to delay a series of lawsuits over proposed rules governing new sources of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry, giving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) more time to review the rules.

In an order Thursday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia agreed to hold the lead case, American Petroleum Institute (API) et al v. EPA et al[No. 13-1108], and several consolidated lawsuits in abeyance pending further order of the court.

The order calls on EPA to submit status reports at 60-day intervals, beginning in mid-July. The court further stipulated that once EPA notifies the court and the parties involved of any action the agency plans to take with respect to the rule, that the parties in turn must submit motions to govern future proceedings.

At issue are three final rules governing methane emissions that EPA unveiled in May 2016 by the Obama administration. The rules, collectively updates to the New Source Performance Standards, are designed to reduce methane, volatile organic compounds and toxic air pollutants. The rules were designed to help meet a goal by the previous administration to slash methane emissions from the oil and gas sector by 40-45% from 2012 levels by the year 2025.

Under an executive order (EO) signed by President Trump on March 28, EPA was directed to review regulations on energy sources, and then to either suspend, revise or rescind them. To help facilitate that review, the Trump administration requested an abeyance from the court in April.

The EO calls on the EPA administrator to submit a review plan of the methane rule to the White House's Office of Management and Budget within 45 days. A draft report on EPA's actions is due within 120 days of the EO being enacted, and a final report is due within 180 days.

Last January, the court consolidated three groups of lawsuits and made the API case the lead one. The other two were Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA) et al v. EPA et al[No. 15-1040], and State of North Dakota v. EPA et al[No. 16-1242]. Both of those lawsuits also had additional cases consolidated with them.

Thirteen states -- Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin -- plus the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, are petitioners that oppose the new rules. API, IPAA, the Western Energy Alliance (WEA) and several state oil and gas, drilling contractor and royalty owner associations are also opposed.

Meanwhile, at least nine states -- California, Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont -- joined a coalition of environmental groups in support of the rules. The coalition includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Sierra Club, the Clean Air Council, Earthworks and the Environmental Integrity Project.

Earlier this month, the Senate narrowly failed to pass a bill calling for repeal of another holdover from the Obama administration: a rule governing flaring and venting of associated natural gas on public and tribal lands.

Like EPA's aforementioned methane rule, the Bureau of Land Management's (BLM) Waste Prevention, Production Subject to Royalties, and Resource Conservation Rule -- also known as the venting and flaring rule -- has raised the ire of the Trump administration, Republican lawmakers and the oil and gas industry. WEA, IPAA and four western states have filed a lawsuit over the BLM rule, arguing that amounts to a vast overreach of the bureau's authority.

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