The Trump administration is planning to repeal former President Barack Obama’s landmark 2015 rule setting standards for hydraulic fracturing on federal land.
Justice Department lawyers revealed the decision late Wednesday in a filing with the Denver-based Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, where the federal government under had been fighting against the oil and natural gas industry and conservative states to get the rule reinstated.
It is the latest in a series of high-profile Obama environmental rules the Trump administration is repealing or working to change.
Earlier Wednesday, President Trump asked the Environmental Protection Agency to consider weakening greenhouse gas emissions standards for cars.
Trump has ordered the EPA to consider repealing Obama’s Clean Water Rule, and will soon seek to undo the Clean Power Plan, the coal leasing moratorium for federal land and other climate and environmental regulations.
Attorneys said the Interior Department and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) have been reviewing rules as part of a White House directive on reducing unnecessary and burdensome regulations.
“As part of this process, the department has begun reviewing the 2015 final rule … for consistency with the policies and priorities of the new administration,” lawyers wrote. “This initial review has revealed that the 2015 final rule does not reflect those policies and priorities.”
Attorneys said that Interior would formally propose to repeal the rule within 90 days. That will start a process, likely to take a year or more, of undoing a rule that was a high priority for Obama and took many years to write.
Greens slammed the Trump administration’s decision Wednesday.
“This disturbing decision highlights Trump’s desire to leave our beautiful public lands utterly unprotected from oil industry exploitation,” Michael Saul, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said in a statement. “Backing away from these modest rules is doubly dangerous given the administration’s reckless plans to ramp up fracking and drilling on public lands across America.”
The move comes as little surprise. The rule was a top target of the oil and natural gas industry as well as Republicans – all key allies to Trump.
The rule set standards in three areas for federal-land fracking: integrity of well casing, storage of waste fluids and public disclosure of the chemicals used.
It was written in part to respond to suspicion and anger from the public regarding the controversial oil and gas extraction technique, which has grown exponentially and been behind the boom in domestic energy production and resulting low prices.
Wyoming federal Judge Scott Skavdahl, an Obama nominee, blocked the rule last year. He accepted arguments from industry and a handful of states that the BLM is prohibited by federal law from regulating fracking.
The Obama administration appealed to the Tenth Circuit. Oral arguments were scheduled for later this month in the appeals court before a three-judge panel, but the Trump administration asked that they be canceled pending the regulatory repeal.
Environmental groups that joined the litigation to defend the rule could ask the court to keep the case active, but the court is not obligated to comply.
Once Interior finalizes its action to rescind the rule, it could be subject to litigation, including from environmental groups, states or others affected.