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California, New Mexico sue Trump administration over methane rules rollback

A Sierra Club official calls the rollback part of the Trump administration's 'ongoing assault on clean air.'
Image: Firefighters douse a flame at a Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, California
Firefighters douse a flame at the Chevron oil refinery in Richmond, Calif on August 6, 2012.Josh Edelson / Reuters file

California and New Mexico teamed up to file suit against the Trump administration Tuesday after the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced that it was eliminating Obama-era rules intended to reduce energy companies' methane emissions on Indian tribal and federally controlled lands.

In announcing the lawsuit to "set aside" the rules' repeal, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra noted that the same two states have twice successfully sued the Trump administration after it attempted to thwart the same regulations.

"We've sued the administration before over the illegal delay and suspension of this rule and will continue doing everything in our power to hold them accountable for the sake of our people and planet," Becerra said in a statement.

Image: BP Carson Oil Refinery
The BP Carson Oil Refinery is shown in Carson, California on March 3, 2008.Andrew Gombert / EPA file

The regulations will be wiped out in 60 days unless the Northern California U.S. District Court challenge is successful. Methane, a potent greenhouse gas that experts say contributes to global warming, often escapes in the extraction of natural gas.

The Obama-era rules, finalized days after the 2016 presidential election and implemented last year, assessed fees on certain energy producers that allow excess methane to escape into the atmosphere, required more inspections, and phased out routine flaring, or burn-offs.

The Trump administration has argued that the rules overlapped with existing tribal land regulations and would not "foster economic growth," according to a statement Tuesday from the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Bureau of Land Management.

"The Trump Administration is committed to innovative regulatory improvement and environmental stewardship," Interior's deputy secretary. David Bernhardt, said in the same statement.

The Bureau of Land Management earlier estimated that the regulations would have eliminated 175,000 tons of methane emissions and generated as much as $14 million in additional annual royalties that are split between state and federal governments.

"Today's announcement [by the BLM] is just a continuation of this administration's ongoing assault on clean air, public lands, our health, and our climate," Lena Moffitt, a Sierra Club senior director, said in a statement Tuesday.