Three days before Donald Trump’s inauguration as the 45th U.S. president, attorneys for Barack Obama’s outgoing administration will ask an appeals court to revive rules governing oil-and-gas fracking on federal land.
Even if Obama wins, the victory would likely be short-lived.
Trump’s “highest advisers generally agree with our side of the lawsuit,” said Mark S. Barron, a lawyer for trade groups that joined Wyoming and three other states seeking to overturn the restrictions that they contend would unduly restrict energy companies’ use of hydraulic fracturing. “The Bureau of Land Management hasn’t identified a single incident or problem that this federal rule would have prevented. The fact of the matter is fracking is regulated pretty heavily under state law.”
The president-elect has promised to boost the economy in part by scuttling regulations introduced under Obama. High-profile court cases over rules related to health care, the environment and the financial industry may become moot in January when both the executive and legislative branches come under control of the Republican Party, which has been hostile to them. Still, the process of reversing the policies won’t be easy.
“I don’t think the entire Obama legacy is going to be undone in a month, but there’s a chance for some pretty substantial chipping away of his hallmark legislation,” said Christoper Walker, who teaches constitutional litigation at Ohio State University’s Moritz College of Law. “A fair amount of these rules could be unwound pretty quickly.”
In the fracking case, a U.S. judge in Wyoming in June found federal rules that set detailed standards for drilling wells in shale formations on about 700 million acres of federal land exceeded the authority of the Bureau of Land Management and blocked their enforcement. The U.S. appealed. Arguments are set for Jan. 17 in Denver.
Other litigation concerns Obama’s effort to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions and slow global warming. The Clean Power Plan, enacted last year by the Environmental Protection Agency, likely is on the chopping block as Trump has called global warming a hoax. Bolstered by mining interests and power companies, 27 states sued to overturn the CPP. A Washington court heard arguments in the case in September.
“It is our hope that the regulation will be withdrawn after Donald Trump takes office,” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey said in a statement. “That should preclude the need for further litigation, but we will need to discuss the mechanics with the new administration to determine how we will proceed.”
Another long-running battle that’s likely to fade is a suit by 15 states over EPA rules for mercury and other power-plant pollutants. The Supreme Court sided with the states when the late Justice Antonin Scalia faulted the agency for failing to do a cost-benefit analysis. After the EPA did one, the states sued again. The case may be over if Trump changes the rules.