Another court has found that the Trump administration has acted illegally in its efforts to roll back Obama administration environmental protections.
On Wednesday, a California magistrate judge ruled against Department of Interior efforts to delay the implementation of rules to address flaring, a practice used by oil and gas companies to burn off leaking methane. Flaring has been linked to climate change, as well as wasted tax dollars, since the drilling is happening on federal land.
The new decision marks the third time since July that courts have ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency of Interior Department have acted illegally in a rush to roll-back environmental protections. In three other cases, the administration backed down from these efforts after lawsuits were filed by environmental organizations or state attorneys general.
Despite the reversals, the administration has moved forward with many of these objectives, sometimes with multiple avenues to roll back the same rule, suggesting that setbacks such as the recent decision are not the end of such efforts.
However, many observers and legal scholars note that these setbacks signal that the administration is rushing these efforts in a way that leaves it open to legal challenges. Environmental advocates say it shows that the administration does not care about federal law.
According to John Walke, director of the clean air project at the Natural Resources Defense Council, “It shows serial lawbreaking and sloppiness by a Trump administration bent on rollbacks. It is sad they have to have their comeuppance in courts rather than doing what was right.”
Past administrations have faced similar difficulties in such efforts. Environmentalists won 27 court rulings against the George W. Bush administration fighting their efforts to roll back pollution rules.
Observers have pointed out that many vital EPA and Interior Department positions have yet to be filled by the Trump administration, and there is a lack of cooperation between longstanding career staff, and more recent political appointees.
According to Harvard environmental law professor Richard J. Lazarus:
“The career people at E.P.A. and D.O.J. are top-notch lawyers. But you have political people come in, and they don’t trust them at all and try to do it without them.”
The day after the court ruled against the administration’s delay to the flaring rules, the Interior Department posted a notice on the Federal Register saying it plans to delay the rule once again, until January 2019. However, this time they are allowing a period for public comments.