DENVER – A U.S. Court of Appeals blocked EPA administrator Scott Pruitt from delaying the implementation of the methane regulations adopted under the Obama administration on a 2-1 vote Monday.
This decision comes just days after the state of Colorado joined 13 other states in support of legal action against the Environmental Protection Agency to maintain regulation of methane emission by the oil and gas industry.
The governor’s office announced last week its intention to intervene in support of six conservation groups in suing the EPA over an order to delay implementation of Obama-era regulations to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. This was done with outside representation for the state since Attorney General Cynthia Coffman declined to represent Colorado in this instance.
Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, one of the conservation groups behind the lawsuit, said in a statement that the court’s decision is one that will ensure “all Americans breath easier.”
“The court’s decision is a big win for common sense, public health, climate security and the rule of law,” Krupp said.
The decision issued by the court states that Pruitt lacked the authority to delay the regulation and vacated the EPA’s actions.
But the Environmental Defense Fund says the fight isn’t over because the EPA said it intends to place a two-year stay of implementation on the methane rule and will hold public hearings on the proposal on July 10.
“Unfortunately, the threats to these commonsense clean air protections are far from over, and the EDF will keep fighting to make sure our nation’s bedrock clean air laws are enforced to safeguard all Americans,” said Vickie Patton, an attorney for the EDF.
The underlying lawsuit was initiated in June when Pruitt announced the EPA would be suspending and reviewing a regulation that requires oil and gas companies to monitor for, and fix, leaks.
Conservation groups argued that the EPA decision to suspend the methane rule, which was instituted in 2016, for 90 days came without an opportunity for public input and is therefore unlawful.
The decision came two days after the required compliance date for the regulation and is the result of an executive order from President Donald Trump calling for a review of rules that burden the production and use of domestic energy sources.
Colorado is entering into the field to protect “its territory and residents from harmful air pollution, including both ground-level ozone pollution as well as greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change,” according to the motion to intervene in the lawsuit.
As the state has its own leak detection and repair program, which was implemented in 2014 and served as the basis for the 2016 EPA regulation, the danger of increased air pollution would have come from surrounding states.
Colorado’s program identified more than 36,000 leaks in 2015, according to studies by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
The program is estimated to reduce emissions by an estimated 157,000 tons a year, but this is a best guess because it is difficult to track invisible gas leaks, said Martha Rudolph, director of environmental programs for the health department.
The decision to stay the methane rule is another action taken by the Trump Administration to deliver on campaign promises to “Make America Great Again” by cutting down on regulation of the energy sector.
Several executive orders issued by Trump have targeted regulatory burden on private industry.
This includes an order in January calling for removal of two current regulations for each new one adopted and the March order to review current regulation of energy production, which prompted the EPA’s decision on the methane emission rule.
These orders were issued on the belief that overregulation of the energy industry has reduced job availability in the U.S. and robbed it of its prosperity, but regulating leaks and methane emissions has not had this effect on Colorado’s oil and gas industry, Rudolph said.
“We’ve not heard anything that indicated that the regulations that we passed in 2014 have caused any kind of slowdown in the exploration or production of the oil and gas industry,” she said.
In 2015, the year after the leak detection and repair program was implemented, oil and gas production grew by 21 percent.
Rudolph said rather than causing a slowdown, this regulation could benefit the industry because it ensures it is not losing product from faulty equipment.