Another bump for Trump: court rejects bid to delay methane emission cuts

The Trump administration was ordered by a federal court on Wednesday to immediately enforce new restrictions on the release of potent methane emissions at oil and gas drilling operations on public land.

Judge Elizabeth Laporte of the District Court for the Northern District of California ruled late Wednesday that the Trump administration broke the law when it tried this summer to delay an Obama administration rule related to greenhouse gas released through drilling.

The ruling came at the behest of California and other states, which charged the administration is required by law to enforce the new rules intended to cut the release of 175,000 tons of the potent greenhouse gas annually, as well as reduce the emission of associated toxic pollutants.

The Interior Department had been delaying enforcement as it mapped out a strategy to rescind the new rules, which industry has complained are onerous.

An earlier push by opponents of new methane restrictions to kill them in Congress fell short of the needed votes amid a backlash from landowners affected by pollution from drilling and environmentalists.

The ruling was the latest in a series of legal setbacks for the Trump administration, as the courts find flaws in its plans for dismantling executive branch actions taken to confront climate change before President Trump took office.

This is at least the third time that federal courts have pulled up the Trump administration for trying to delay a regulation that had already taken effect, but for which the compliance date had not yet passed.

It means that for now, the January 2018 compliance date for the rule is in effect.

US department of Interior's June delay tried to push the compliance date off until pending lawsuits against it are resolved. But the Trump administration is also working to repeal or revise the rule, so the delay would have given officials room to do that.

And earlier Wednesday, the Interior Department said it will formally propose to push the compliance date to January 2019, under a different legal provision than the one at issue in the lawsuit decided Wednesday.

The Department of Interior recently got a similar ruling on its attempt to delay a change in how the government values oil, natural gas and coal that private companies extract from federal land. A court also shot down the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) bid to delay its own rule on methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.

In the case decided Wednesday, Interior's Bureau of Land Management (BLM) tried to argue that since it is allowed to postpone the ''effective date'' of a rule, it can also postpone the ''compliance date'', which is in January 2018.

''Effective and compliance dates have distinct meanings,'' the judge wrote, noting that the rule became effective in January 2017 under the Obama administration, but companies did not have to comply for a year.

''Not only is this argument contrary to the plain language of the statute, but it collapses the clear statutory distinction between the two periods before and after a rule takes effect,'' she said, declaring the delay to be ''unlawful'' and overturning it.

The case was filed by California, New Mexico and other Democratic states, joined by environmental groups.

Methane is the main component of natural gas and is a greenhouse gas about 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide.