A federal court is demanding the Environmental Protection Agency explain why it has the authority to pause an Obama administration regulation on methane emissions.
The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit announced on Tuesday that it was giving the EPA until June 15th to respond to the request of environmental advocacy organizations suing the agency.
Earlier in the year, the EPA suspended a set of standards oil and natural gas drilling companies have to follow, the intent of which was to limit methane emissions. Methane is a greenhouse gas which The Hill reports is ’80 times more potent’ than carbon dioxide; it is also the main compound found in natural gas.
The plaintiffs, which include the likes of the Environmental Defense Fund and the Sierra Club, claim the EPA doesn’t have the power to halt the rule. They’ve asked the courts to immediately issue an order terminating the agency’s regulatory pause.
In its court filing, EPA officials “cited a provision in the Clean Air Act that allows 90-day administrative stays for regulations under certain circumstances.”
The lawsuit is, according to The Hill, the first challenge to the Trump administration’s proposed rollbacks on Obama-era environmental rules and regulations.
The litigation comes on the heels of a failed attempt by Senate Republicans to overturn a Bureau of Land Management rule which limits drilling on lands managed by the federal government and Native American tribes.
The BLM regulation and methane restriction have both been challenged numerous times by organizations and businesses in the oil and gas industry. CNBC reports that the American Petroleum Institute has criticized the latter rule for being unnecessary and restrictive, considering the efforts many drillers have made to tackle emissions problems themselves.
Scientists have already discovered that methane leaks from the drilling industry contribute far more to climate change and greenhouse gases than previously thought. However, they also concluded that methane leaks didn’t drive an increase in overall emissions since 2007 – largely because the industry itself has gotten about self-regulating.
According to CNBC, scientists say the reduction isn’t cause enough to celebrate – though the industry has reduced methane leaks during drilling, an increase in operations nationwide have made up the difference.
In a press release detailing the ongoing litigation, the Natural Resources Defense Council expressly criticized EPA chief Scott Pruitt, who authorized the 90-day stay.
Pruitt is the former Attorney General of Oklahoma and had sued the Environmental Protection Agency upward of a dozen times in that capacity.