DC Circuit Vacates Methane Rule Rollback

The 2-1 decision on July 3 vacates EPA's decision to stay implementation of a final rule setting new source performance standards for fugitive emissions of methane from oil and gas wells.

In a 2-1 per curiam decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on July 3 vacated EPA's decision to stay implementation of a final rule setting new source performance standards for fugitive emissions of methane from oil and gas wells. The decision sided with the Clean Air Council, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and allied groups that had filed suit right after EPA on June 5, 2017, published a notice that it was reconsidering and partially staying the rule that had gone into effect on Aug. 2, 2016; the rule required oil and gas entities to being identifying leaks by June 3, 2017.

EPA on June 16 announced it would extend the stay for two years.

Several energy industry groups had sought reconsideration of the rule after EPA originally published it. The per curiam decision discusses the two grounds for which section 307(d)(7)(B) of the Clean Air Act allows EPA to stay a final rule -- impracticability and central relevance -- and finds that neither was met in this case. EPA gave four reasons for staying the emissions standards, but those were "inaccurate and thus unreasonable," the two circuit judges in the majority, David S. Tatel and Robert L. Wilkins, found. They said the administrative record made clear that industry groups had ample opportunity to comment on the four issues on which EPA granted reconsideration, and in several instances EPA did incorporate the industry groups' comments directly into the final rule, they found.

Circuit Judge Janice Rogers Brown dissented.

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