POLITICS
01/24/2018 17:24 EST

California Sues Donald Trump Over Rollback Of Obama-Era Fracking Rule

"The risks of fracking to our health and to our environment are real," state Attorney General Xavier Becerra says.

WASHINGTON — California Attorney General Xavier Becerra (D) announced Wednesday that the state has sued the Trump administration over its decision to scrap an Obama-era hydraulic fracturing rule.

The 2015 rule — which was finalized but not implemented due to legal challenges — sought to better protect public health by setting standards for the construction of hydraulic fracturing operations on federal land and requiring oil and gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in the process. 

At a news conference Wednesday, Becerra — who has sued the administration more than 20 times — said “the risks of fracking to our health and to our environment are real; they’re known.” The lawsuit, he said, is about protecting California’s 40 million residents. 

“President Trump and Interior Secretary [Ryan] Zinke didn’t let the law or facts get in their way in their zeal to repeal this common-sense measure,” Becerra said. 

Better known as “fracking,” this practice involves pumping a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals into underground rock formations to release oil and natural gas. 

There has been growing public concern in recent years about the threats fracking poses, in particular to groundwater. In a 2016 report, the Environmental Protection Agency concluded that such activities “can impact drinking water resources under some circumstances.” 

Industry groups and several states promptly sued the Obama administration after the rule was finalized, and in 2016 a federal judge struck down the rule, concluding that the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management did not have the authority to regulate fracking. In September, however, a federal appeals court overturned the lower court’s ruling. 

In its push for “energy dominance,” the Trump administration has furiously promoted increased fossil fuel development and worked to roll back numerous industry regulations, including the fracking rule. 

Last month, the BLM issued a final notice rescinding the rule. The move, the agency wrote, was necessary “to prevent the unnecessarily burdensome and unjustified administrative requirements and compliance costs of the 2015 rule from encumbering oil and gas development on federal and Indian lands.” 

Becerra told reporters Wednesday that the repeal is “reckless,” “arbitrary” and “capricious.” The BLM, he argues, has failed to justify its recent change in course.

David Hayes, the Interior Department’s deputy secretary under President Barack Obama and the current executive director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center, said Wednesday that by rescinding the 2015 rule, the Trump administration put the industry’s financial interests ahead of public health and the environment. 

“Americans deserves better than a ‘trust us’ approach that fails to forthrightly address fracking-related drilling risks to our public lands,” he said in a statement. 

Similarly, a coalition of environmental and tribal groups represented by Earthjustice also filed suit on Wednesday in an effort to block the repeal. 

“This is another case of the Trump administration putting our public lands and water at risk to pad the bottom line of the oil and gas industry,” Earthjustice attorney Michael Freeman said in a statement. “The agency has abdicated its responsibility under federal law to manage these lands for the good of the public, not just for fracking companies. We’re filing this case to force BLM to do its job.”

Zinke told members of the National Petroleum Council in September that “fracking is proof that God’s got a good sense of humor and he loves us,” the Washington Examiner reported.