The limitations of Trump’s power to reset U.S. climate policy has been on full display over the last few days in Washington. The White House plans to scrap restrictions on the release of a potent greenhouse gas are getting stymied by the courts, by forceful public opposition and even by Republicans in Congress.
The administration’s struggle to free oil and gas companies from Obama-era limits on how much methane they can release into the air reflects the challenge Trump faces in carrying out his “America first” energy policy. Signing executive orders and making speeches were the easy part. Pushing policies to fruition is proving more complicated.
The thicket of legal issues entangling the administration on methane comes as it is facing an onslaught on another environmental front. Its plans to roll back national monument protections — ordered by Trump himself — are about to enter a crucial stage, and the wind is hardly at the back of the White House as it does.
The fight over methane — a gas that accelerates global warming at 25 times the rate of carbon — has also proved more fraught than the administration may have anticipated.
After three GOP senators defected from party leaders to vote down a bill that would have scrapped the methane rules on public land, the administration moved to go it alone. It used executive authority to put on hold the public-land rule and an even farther-reaching methane rule the Environmental Protection Agency is scheduled to enforce nationwide.
But the administration found itself hindered again last week, when a federal court ruled that the EPA didn’t have the authority to delay enforcement by even 90 days.
By Monday, emboldened activists were making a show of force at EPA headquarters in Washington, where scores of them appeared to testify against the agency’s broader plan to shelve the methane rules for two years, which appeared unlikely given the court ruling. They vastly outnumbered oil and gas industry representatives at the hearing and presented an unflattering public relations picture for the administration.
Reversing course on methane was not supposed to be so challenging for Trump. The rules at issue were completed late in the Obama administration and were repeatedly pilloried by the oil and gas industry as an unnecessary nuisance. Republican leaders had left the impression that Congress would act fast to scrap the rules on public land, which were still subject to congressional review when Trump took office.
Administration's Future Plans
With the administration on the defensive following the court ruling blocking the EPA from suspending the methane rules, attorneys general in California and New Mexico attacked Trump’s methane rollback on another front. They filed suit Wednesday against the Department of Interior, saying the administration has no authority to delay enforcement of the separate methane rules on public land that Congress failed to rescind.
The administration’s plans are also threatening to undermine state environmental laws in states where Republicans hold power. Colorado, Ohio and Wyoming have all passed laws requiring energy firms to contain more methane — and in all of those places, there are energy companies eager to see competitors across state lines subject to the same rules they are.
Image of hydraulic fracturing operation near Rifle, Colo. (Brennan Linsley / Associated Press). Some rights reserved.
Image of President Trump (ABCNews). Some rights reserved.