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Environmentalists Win a Victory Against Scott Pruitt

A federal court threw a roadblock in the way of Pruitt's efforts to postpone new oil and gas regulations.

Environmentalists Win a Victory Against Scott Pruitt

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt arrives to testify about the fiscal year 2018 budget during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill, June 27, 2017. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

Scott Pruitt’s EPA handed a huge favor to the the oil and gas industry last month when it delayed an Obama-era regulation that fossil fuel companies vigorously opposed.

But on Monday, a federal appeals court snatched that victory from the industry’s hands and sent EPA back to the drawing board. In a 2-1 decision, the court decided that the Clean Air Act did not give the EPA the authority to block the rule, and that its decision to do so was “unreasonable” as well as “arbitrary and capricious.”

The rule — which Scott Pruitt and lawyers for the American Petroleum Institute are fighting to delay — cracks down on pollutants that tend to come from drilling operations. Pruitt wants to delay the rule for a year, even though his agency acknowledges that doing so will have a negative impact on the health of children living near oil and gas operations. One of the chemicals that the rule places tighter regulations on is benzene, which causes cancer.

The rule was also crafted with global warming in mind. It takes aim at methane leaks, which are potent drivers of climate change.

The Atlantic’s Robinson Meyer points out that this is one of the first clashes in the courts between environmentalists and the Trump administration, and at least for now, environmentalists came out on top. He writes:

The ruling suggests that some of the Obama administration’s environmental rules may prove more resilient than once seemed. In May, the Senate failed to repeal a slightly different “methane rule” from the Bureau of Land Management. That rule requires pre-existing oil and gas wells to limit their methane emissions — but it only applied to operations on federal or Native American land.

The EPA’s methane rule — which was upheld in court on Monday — takes a broader approach. It mandates that all new oil and gas operations everywhere in the United States reduce their methane emissions.


But the news is not all good for climate advocates. The panel said that the EPA was free to begin the process of rewriting the methane rule. And Judge Janice Rogers Brown, the only member of the panel nominated by a Republican president, dissented from its ruling. Blocking the temporary 90-day stay simply wasn’t within the court’s powers, she said, because only final EPA decisions are reviewable by the courts.

We’ll continue keeping an eye on the administration’s efforts to roll back environmental and public health protections in our “While He Was Tweeting” dispatches. Stay tuned.

John Light


John Light is a reporter and producer for the Moyers team. His work has appeared at The Atlantic, Grist, Mother Jones, Salon, Slate, Vox and Al Jazeera, and has been broadcast on Public Radio International. He's a graduate of Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. You can follow him on Twitter at @LightTweeting.