February 1, 2018 Read More →

Long Legal Fight Ahead on Rollback of Federal Coal-Royalty Reforms

E&E News:

Settle in for a long fight over the Trump administration’s decision to scrap reforms for how royalties are calculated for federal fossil fuels.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California on Friday laid out the briefing schedule for litigation over the 2017 rollback of the Obama-era Interior Department measure. Defenders and opponents won’t meet in the courtroom until October, a full year after the case began.

At issue is the Trump administration’s decision to scrap the Office of Natural Resources Revenue’s valuation rule, which addressed royalties calculations for oil, gas and coal production from public and tribal lands.

Trump officials attempted to sideline the regulation in early 2017 and ultimately rescinded it last August. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas, both Democrats, filed suit in October. They argued that Interior and ONRR didn’t adequately justify the reversal of the Obama administration’s reforms, in violation of the Administrative Procedure Act (Energywire, Oct. 18, 2017).

Under the court’s schedule, the opposing sides have until this summer to file motions for summary judgment supporting their sides. Then they’ll meet in the courtroom in October to hash it out before Senior Judge Saundra Brown Armstrong, a George H.W. Bush appointee. Armstrong could choose to decide the issue without a hearing.

The timeline highlights the lengthy battles many opponents of the Trump administration are in for as they oppose various deregulation efforts and other agency actions.

“While Attorney General Balderas is disappointed that his challenge to Interior’s unlawful repeal of the Valuation Rule cannot be resolved more quickly, the most important issue at hand is to ensure that New Mexico will enjoy the long-term benefits of the Rule over the years to come,” spokesman James Hallinan said in an email.

Becerra’s office did not respond to a request for comment, but both states have previously outlined potential harms from the Obama rule’s rescission.

“California and New Mexico have an interest in the proper management of their respective States’ natural resources and in receiving an appropriate share of royalty payments from oil, gas and coal that is produced on federal lands within their States,” they told the court last year. “ONRR’s repeal of the Rule has impacted the amount of royalties received by the States from the extraction of these resources.”

More ($): Long slog ahead for legal battle over Obama royalties rule

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