Court Rules Trump's EPA Can't Reverse Obama-Era Methane Rule After All

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A federal appeals court ruled that Monday that President Trump's Environmental Protection Agency can't reverse Obama-era regulations that place limits on methane emissions. EPA Director Scott Pruitt attempted to suspend the implementation of a wide set of environmental regulations that the Obama administration had authorized. However, in a 2-1 ruling, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that Trump and Pruitt do not have the authority to do so under the Clean Air Act.

The rule in question, which had been authorized under Obama in 2016, was the first-ever federal restriction on methane leaks from oil and natural gas wells, according to the Washington Post. It only applied to new facilities, but Obama's EPA estimated that it would prevent around 11 million metric tons of carbon-dioxide-equivalent emissions from being released by 2025.

In April, Pruitt announced that the EPA would be placing a 90-day hold on implementation of the rule; two months later, Pruitt said that the administration might not enforce the rule for another two years. But the D.C. Circuit Court ruled that, while the administration does have the right to reconsider or rewrite the rule, it can't suspend the regulation while it does so. The rule in question was scheduled to take effect the very same day that the court ruled against the Trump administration, which means that the EPA now must begin enforcing the rule immediately.

Lawyers for the administration argued that the EPA's decision to delay the rules wasn't subject to judicial review, because it wasn't the agency's final action on the regulations. But the court disagreed, with the majority finding that the EPA's attempt to suspend the rule was "essentially an order delaying the rule’s effective date, and this court has held that such orders are tantamount to amending or revoking a rule."

This is the most recent instance in which court ruled that the Trump administration had overstepped its bounds. Multiple federal courts have knocked down Trump's travel ban, while a judge in San Francisco blocked the administration's attempts to withhold federal funds from so-called "sanctuary cities" that don't enforce federal immigration law.

However, the Supreme Court eventually upheld most of the travel ban's provisions — and the Trump administration can still appeal the D.C. Circuit Court's Monday ruling. In an email to the Washington Post, a spokeswoman for the EPA said that the agency was "reviewing the opinion and examining our options."