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Judge Quashes Trump’s Methane Regulation Rollback as Global Emissions Hit All-Time High

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  • Jul 28, 2020

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In a decision last week, a U.S. judge called a halt to the Trump administration’s bid to roll back methane regulations enacted by President Barack Obama, just a couple of days after scientists reported global methane emissions hitting record highs in 2017.

It was another bad week in the courts for the former reality TV star currently occupying the White House, with a second judge one day later rejecting Trump’s challenge to California’s carbon cap-and-trade program.

In the methane ruling, District Court Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers reinstated Obama-era restrictions on venting and flaring of the climate-busting substance, calling out the administration’s “backwards approach to rulemaking” and asserting the government had “engineered a process to ensure a preordained conclusion,” Politico Morning Energy reports.

“The Bureau of Land Management’s 2016 regulation established methane leak detection and repair requirements for oil and gas production on federal lands, and in 2018 BLM under Trump repealed many of the rule’s key provisions,” Politico recalls. But “in its haste, BLM ignored its statutory mandate under the Mineral Leasing Act, repeatedly failed to justify numerous reversals in policy positions previously taken, and failed to consider scientific findings and institutions relied upon by both prior Republican and Democratic administrations,” Gonzalez Rogers wrote. 

Politico notes that the finding that BLM violated the U.S. National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and Administrative Procedure Act, as well as the MLA, landed hours after Trump released a sweeping rollback of NEPA aimed at speeding up the approval process for pipelines and other fossil infrastructure. In recent months, U.S. coverage has identified NEPA as a first line of defence for communities, particularly those that are poor and racialized, to push back against polluting projects that endanger their health and safety.

Trump’s proposed NEPA amendments “include instructing agencies to focus on ‘reasonably foreseeable’ and ‘causally related’ impacts,” Politico explains. For climate pollution, “that means agencies would need to consider only the greenhouse gas emissions from building the project—such as the impact of trucks bringing in construction materials—rather than, say, the emissions from burning any oil a pipeline would transport or vehicle emissions a highway expansion would enable.”

Earlier last week, two new studies showed that global emissions of methane—a greenhouse gas that is 84 times more potent than carbon dioxide over a 20-year span—grew 9% in 2017, the last year for which figures are available, putting the planet on track for more than 3.0°C average global warming by 2100. The research pointed to livestock and leaky pipelines as primary sources, Bloomberg Green reports.

Researcher Marielle Saunois of l’Université de Versailles Saint-Quentin said human activities account for 60% of overall methane emissions that have increased 2½-fold since pre-industrial times.

“After stabilizing in the late 1990s and early 2000s, methane emissions have been rising since 2007, accelerating since 2014,” Bloomberg writes. “Average annual emissions of methane rose to an estimated 596 million tons in the period through 2017, from 546 million tons in the 2000-2006 period.”

“There’s a hint that we might be able to reach peak carbon dioxide emissions very soon. But we don’t appear to be even close to peak methane,” said Stanford University earth scientist Rob Jackson, head of the Global Carbon Project, the scientific consortium behind the research. “It isn’t going down in agriculture, it isn’t going down with fossil fuel use.”

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