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California, Environmental Groups Sue Over Rescinded BLM Fracking Rule

One month after the Trump administration rescinded an Obama-era rule governing hydraulic fracturing (fracking) on public and tribal lands, California and a coalition of environmental groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court in San Francisco on Wednesday, alleging the rescission ran afoul of several federal laws.

In a lawsuit before the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, California Attorney General (AG) Xavier Becerra argued that the Interior Department's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) "tossed aside the public interest" when it decided on Dec. 28 to rescind the fracking rule, which was unveiled in 2015. The AG said the Trump administration and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had violated the U.S. Administrative Procedure Act (APA) with the move.

"Once again, President Trump and Interior Secretary Zinke didn't let the law or facts get in their way in their zeal to repeal the 2015 fracking rule," Becerra said Wednesday. "The Interior Department's own factual record shows that the risks to our health and environment are real. So, once again, the California Department of Justice will get in the way of another reckless Trump violation of our laws."

In a separate lawsuit, environmental groups led by the Sierra Club called the rescission of the BLM rule "arbitrary and capricious," and alleged the Trump administration violated an alphabet soup of federal laws -- specifically, the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, the Mineral Leasing Act, the Indian Mineral Leasing Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act.

"In contrast to the nearly five-year process of developing the 2015 rule, BLM completed notice-and-comment rulemaking on its repeal in just over five months," the environmental groups said in their filing. "The repeal leaves oil and gas development on federal and tribal lands subject to BLM's outdated 1980s-era regulations."

Environmental groups that joined the lawsuit include the Center for Biological Diversity, Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, Earthworks, Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, the Wilderness Society and Western Resource Advocates.

The plaintiffs in each case urged the court to vacate the rescission and issue a mandatory injunction compelling the Trump administration to reinstate the 2015 rule in its entirety.

Last month, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit ruled against rehearing arguments over the 2015 rule. Although the panel didn't specify why it had denied a rehearing, the same panel three months earlier had cited Trump's election and the subsequent redirection of the BLM toward rescission.

A district court judge in Wyoming ruled in June 2016 that the BLM did not have the authority to regulate fracking.

Western Energy Alliance (WEA) President Kathleen Sgamma told NGI's Shale Daily that the BLM’s decision to rescind the rule "highlights that states are already regulating fracking safely and that the rule is redundant.

"All of these realities mean that the plaintiffs have a steep hill to climb to convince the court that a rule that has never gone into effect is suddenly now necessary. The Independent Petroleum Association of America and WEA will intervene to support the government in its defense."

The cases are Sierra Club et al v. Ryan Zinke et al, No. 3:18-cv-00524, and State of California v. BLM et al, No. 4:18-cv-00521. Maria-Elena James is the presiding judge for the Sierra Club case, while Kandis Westmore is presiding over the California lawsuit.

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