WASHINGTON, July 5, 2017 - A court has ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to go forward with regulations on methane pollution from oil and gas production. 

A three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that the agency improperly delayed compliance with a methane rule issued by the Obama administration issued in 2016.  Oil and gas companies were required under the rule to be in compliance beginning in June. 

Under new Administrator Scott Pruitt, the agency announced in May that it would stay the rule for 90 days on the grounds that the industry wasn’t properly allowed to comment on the final regulations. Then in June, the agency issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) announcing plans to extend the stay for two years.

Six environmental groups - Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Integrity Project, Earthworks, Clean Air Council, and Sierra Club - sued the agency to require it to begin enforcing the regulations, and the court rejected the agency’s justification for the stay.

The agency issued a short statement in response, “We are reviewing the opinion and examining our options.” “The administrative record thus makes clear that industry groups had ample opportunity to comment on all four issues on which EPA granted reconsideration, and indeed, that in several instances the agency incorporated those comments directly into the final rule,” the ruling said. 

Analysts with ClearView Energy Partners said they didn’t consider the ruling a significant setback for the industry. 

While the rule shows that the courts can force the administration to follow the regulatory process, there are several reasons this may not have that much impact, the analysts. For one thing, the two-year stay could still enter into force later this summer under the NPRM. Also, EPA’s ongoing reconsideration of the rule could potentially result in weaker regulations.

The ruling was signed by David Tatel, an appointee of Bill Clinton, and Robert Wilkins, an Obama appointee. 

Janice Brown, an appointee of George W. Bush, wrote a dissenting opinion. She argued that the court didn’t have jurisdiction to block the EPA stay. The majority decision said that the stay was essentially a final action, which is subject to court review. Brown disagreed. 

“Hitting the pause button is the antithesis of ending the matter. The Court presumes a certain outcome from EPA’s reconsideration, one that a stay alone gives us no basis to presume,” she wrote. 

When EPA announced the stay, the Western Energy Alliance said the regulations represented “vast overreach by the prior administration” and were likely to be overturned.