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California v. Bernhardt

ELR Citation: 50 ELR 20174
Nos. 4:18-cv-05712-YGR, (N.D. Cal., 07/15/2020) (Rogers, J.)

A district court vacated the Trump Administration's rescission of the Obama Administration's Waste Prevention Rule, which was enacted to reduce methane waste from oil and gas operations on public and tribal lands. California, New Mexico, and environmental groups argued the rescission violated the APA, the Mineral Leasing Act (MLA), and NEPA, and sought to have it vacated and the Waste Prevention Rule reinstated. The court found that BLM misinterpreted the MLA by establishing a definition of "waste of oil or gas" that ran contrary to the language of the Act, and that while the agency was afforded some deference in its interpretation, it failed to provide a reasoned explanation for why it ignored the market as a whole in favor of economic protection of certain market players on federal land. It also found that BLM's approach—proposing a rule based on a factual conclusion, providing no evidence for the same, and attempting to backfill the record without public comment when confronted with the inadequacy—failed to comply with the APA's notice-and-comment requirements. The court further found the agency failed to satisfy its "hard look" obligation under NEPA with respect to the rescission's impact on public health, both generally and specifically on tribal communities, and with respect to its impact on climate, and erred in determining an EIS was not required. It therefore vacated the rescission, but stayed the vacatur and re-implementation of the Waste Prevention Rule for 90 days.