U.S. District Judge Scott Skavdahl said the agency can’t set the rules because Congress has not authorized it to do so, The Associated Press reports. The judge, whom Obama nominated, wrote that the court’s role is not to decide whether the practice is good or bad for the environment, but to interpret whether Congress has given the Interior Department the legal authority to regulate the practice.
Skavdahl also blocked implementation of rules drafted by the agency in 2015, AP notes. Colorado, North Dakota, Utah and Wyoming oppose the rules involving fracking, which involves injecting substances including water, sand and chemicals underground to increase production from oil and gas wells. The agency and some environmental groups say the rules are necessary to protect the environment. The bureau’s rules would have required petroleum developers to disclose to regulators the ingredients in the chemical products they use.
The states and other opponents, including groups representing the energy industry and the Ute Indian Tribe of the Uintah and Ouray, based in Utah, filed briefs with Skavdahl, AP explains. The tribe said it agrees with the states that the feds lack authority to make such rules, or authority to regulate fracking on land that the U.S. holds in trust for tribes and their members.
Tuesday’s ruling marks the latest setback for the administration’s efforts on environmental issues. Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court blocked the Environmental Protection Agency from enforcing the Clean Power Plan, Obama’s effort to slow climate change by reducing power-plant emissions by one-third by 2030. The court said legal challenges to the rules had to be resolved first. About two dozen states, most of them GOP-led, and scores of utilities and coal companies have sued to stop the rules.