Federal court blocks Trump EPA on air pollution

Washington Post
Tuesday, July 04, 2017

An appeals court Monday struck down the Environmental Protection Agency’s 90-day suspension of new emission standards on oil and gas wells, a decision that could set back the Trump administration’s broad legal strategy for rolling back Obama-era rules.

In a 2-to-1 ruling, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit concluded that the EPA had the right to reconsider a 2016 rule limiting methane and smog-forming pollutants emitted by oil and gas wells but could not delay the effective date while it sought to rewrite the regulation.

The agency has proposed extending the initial delay to two years; the court will hold a hearing on that suspension separately.

“The court’s ruling is yet another reminder, now in the context of environmental protection, that the federal judiciary remains a significant obstacle to the president’s desire to order immediate change,” Richard Lazarus, an environmental law professor at Harvard Law School, said in an email.

“The D.C. Circuit’s ruling today makes clear that neither the president nor his EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, can by fiat unilaterally and instantaneously repeal or otherwise stay the effectiveness of the environmental protection rules put into place during the Obama administration,” he added.

The EPA, along with the American Petroleum Institute, had argued that the stay Pruitt imposed last month was not subject to judicial review, because it did not constitute final action on the rule. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Pruitt said, “Just because you provide a time for implementation or compliance that’s longer doesn’t mean that you’re going to necessarily reverse or redirect the rule.”

But the court rejected that interpretation, writing, “EPA’s stay, in other words, is 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.”

The ruling could affect myriad agencies that have delayed the Obama administration’s regulations, some for long periods. And it underscores the extent to which activists are turning to the courts to block President Donald Trump’s most ambitious policy shifts.