Court Rejects Zinke's Blind Eye to Justice

Our independent courts have stood up once again to Trump’s lawless deregulators―striking down Interior Secretary Zinke’s attempt to suspend an Obama-era rule curbing methane waste and other smog-forming and cancer-causing pollutants from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands.


WildEarth Guardians via Flickr

Judge LaPorte in San Francisco this week issued a powerful decision in litigation over Secretary Zinke’s unlawful stay of the Bureau of Land Management’s (“BLM”) Methane and Waste Prevention Rule, rejecting the stay in its entirety and ordering the rules immediately back in full effect.

This marks the third time that the methane and waste standards have survived attack, after opponents in Congress failed to repeal them and industry associations and hostile states failed in their bid to enjoin the common-sense measures in a Wyoming court case.

The ruling comes just three months after the D.C. Circuit overturned EPA Administrator Pruitt’s attempt to yank parallel Clean Air Act standards for methane pollution from new equipment in the oil and gas industry nationwide.

As explained by my colleague, Pruitt yanked the EPA standards in early June as a favor to his fossil fuel friends, just as the deadlines for complying with initial leak monitoring requirements hit―even after acknowledging that the delay could “have a disproportionate effect on children.” NRDC and our partners sued, and the court moved in near-record time to knock out the stay on July 3rd, finding that Pruitt lacked authority under the Clean Air Act and calling out the “flimsiness” of his arguments.

And as I explained when NRDC joined the lawsuit against Zinke’s stay of the BLM methane and waste standards, the Secretary similarly sought to prevent certain methane and waste control requirements for federal and tribal lands―those with compliance dates starting in January 2018―from ever coming due.

Judge LaPorte rejected Zinke’s brazen misuse of procedural law in no unclear terms. As in a prior decision on another illegal suspension, Judge LaPorte found that agencies don’t have authority to stay already-effective rules, and they cannot revise the compliance deadlines in such rules without going through notice-and-comment rulemaking.

And she poetically chastised the agency for “entirely fail[ing]” to consider the benefits of the Rule. Referring to the key words in the Administrative Procedure Act (APA) she wrote: “If the words ‘justice so requires’ are to mean anything, they must satisfy the fundamental understanding of justice: that it requires an impartial look at the balance struck between the two sides of the scale, as the iconic statue of the blindfolded goddess of justice holding the scales aloft depicts.”

While the two court decisions leave the EPA and BLM methane standards in full effect for now, Pruitt and Zinke have already announced their second attempts at staying each rule. This time around, they will have to follow the procedures and requirements of the Clean Air Act, the Mineral Leasing Act and the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, as well as the APA. Their intention to do industry’s bidding―and turn a blind eye to the rule of law―seems the same, however.

As my colleague and I have described, these methane actions are among the many illegal attempts by the administration to roll back a wealth of protections. NRDC and our partners will continue to stand strong against this lawless deluge.

About the Authors

Meleah Geertsma

Director, Environmental Justice Policy; Environment, Equity & Justice Center

Join Us

When you sign up you'll become a member of NRDC's Activist Network. We will keep you informed with the latest alerts and progress reports.