EPA rule tees up legal battle over federal climate authority

By Niina H. Farah, Lesley Clark | 03/11/2024 06:11 AM EDT

The methane rule for the oil and gas sector could face “major questions” claims, which one environmental lawyer said could “curry favor with some judges.”

A flare burns natural gas at an oil well.

A flare burning natural gas at a well in Watford City, North Dakota. Matthew Brown/AP

EPA’s rule to limit methane emissions from the oil and gas sector may be the latest battleground over whether the agency is exceeding its authority to regulate planet-warming emissions.

The rule is part of a suite of regulatory actions by the Biden administration to address climate change. Methane is a particularly useful target for quickly stemming the rise of global temperatures because the potent greenhouse gas has about 80 times the heat-trapping capability of carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.

EPA published the rule Friday in the Federal Register. Lawsuits are already rolling in.


Environmental lawyers said they wouldn’t be surprised to see EPA’s critics invoke the “major questions” doctrine to challenge the rule. The theory, which says agencies must have express permission from Congress to handle politically and economically significant issues, gained new prominence after the Supreme Court used it in 2022 to invalidate an Obama-era EPA rule on power plant emissions.