By Timothy Gardner
WASHINGTON, Dec 19 (Reuters) - A coalition of nearly 20 environmental and Native American tribal groups sued the Trump administration on Tuesday, challenging its delay of a rule limiting emissions of the powerful greenhouse gas methane from oil and gas drilling operations on federal lands.
Earlier this month, the Bureau of Land Management, part of the Department of the Interior, suspended implementation of the rule for a year, until Jan. 17, 2019, saying it wanted to avoid compliance costs for energy companies as it revises the regulation.
The delay "is yet another action taken by the Trump administration to benefit the oil and gas industry at the expense of the American public, particularly the millions of Westerners" who use public lands for ranching, hunting, hiking and other purposes, Darin Schroeder, a lawyer with the Clean Air Task Force, said in a statement.
His organization represented the National Wildlife Federation, one of the groups that filed the lawsuit against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his department.
Energy companies say the rule, finalized at the end of the Obama administration in 2016, could cost them tens of thousands of dollars per well.
The Trump administration is expected to announce a new draft rule in coming weeks, in line with its policy of maximizing output of oil, gas and coal and dismantling regulations it says prevent job growth.
The rule targets accidental leaks and intentional venting of methane from drilling operations on public lands, where about 9 percent of the country's natural gas and 5 percent of its oil were produced last fiscal year. Some of its 2017 provisions have already been phased in, but the majority of them have yet to go into effect.
The lawsuit, also filed by the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Council, and the Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment, a Navajo group, seeks to stop the delay and force the Interior Department to implement the rule in January. It was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California in San Francisco.
The Interior Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit.
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)
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