D.C. Circuit Refuses EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt's Attempt to Delay Clean Air Safeguards

Court Rules Public Health Protections from Oil and Gas Pollution Must Remain in Place

July 3, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – July 3, 2017) In a resounding victory for clean air and public health, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit today blocked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt from suspending standards that keep pollution from the oil and gas industry out of the air we breathe. 

“The court’s decision means that nationwide pollution limits for oil and gas will take effect now ensuring that all Americans breathe easier,” said Fred Krupp, president of Environmental Defense Fund, which filed an emergency petition with the court to block Pruitt’s damaging action. “The court’s decision is a big win for common sense, public health, climate security, and the rule of law.”

The 2 to 1 opinion held that EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s action was “unauthorized,”  “unreasonable” and “therefore vacate[d] the stay as ‘arbitrary, capricious, [and] in excess of statutory … authority.’” (Decision, page 11)

The court blocked EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s attempt to suspend vital methane and other pollution limits for oil and gas industrial activities. The standards require oil and gas companies to monitor their well sites and compressor stations at regular intervals to detect leaks of air pollutants, and to repair those leaks promptly. Reducing leaks keeps large quantities of smog-forming volatile organic compounds (VOC), cancer-causing benzene, and dangerous methane pollution from being emitted into our air.

Administrator Pruitt suspended these bedrock pollution limits for thousands of oil and gas wells for 90 days, during the peak of the summer smog season and just as they were set to begin delivering critical pollution reductions to communities across the country. The decision was made without public input, and happened after a meeting with the American Petroleum Institute at the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C. that was disclosed only as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Trump Administration and Secretary Pruitt continue to put the interests of the oil and gas industry ahead of the interests of American families. Attempts to take away these protections benefit the worst actors in industry at the expense of the best actors, and violate the core mission of the EPA.

EDF and other health and environmental groups filed a lawsuit asking for an emergency stay to stop Administrator Pruitt from stalling the safeguards. A group of 16 states and cities joined the litigation in support of these vital clean air protections.

Today the court granted the request, saying: “For the reasons set forth in this opinion, we conclude that EPA lacked authority under the Clean Air Act to stay the rule, and we therefore grant petitioners’ motion to vacate the stay.” (Decision, page 2)

Administrator Pruitt has also proposed a two-year delay for the same standards, which would allow substantial, harmful pollution to be emitted from these same sources – he proposed this action while acknowledging that children’s health would be at risk.  EPA will hold a public hearing about that proposal on July 10.

“The court’s decision means that oil and gas facilities will have to undertake commonsense leak detection and repair measures, reducing the harmful pollution our children and families will breathe this summer,” said EDF General Counsel Vickie Patton. “Unfortunately, the threats to these common sense clean air protections are far from over, and EDF will keep fighting to make sure our nation’s bedrock clean air laws are enforced to safeguard all Americans.”

You can find more information about the issue– and all legal documents in the case – on EDF’s website.

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