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WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency will reconsider a rule on greenhouse gas emissions from oil and gas operations and delay its compliance date, the agency said on Wednesday in the Trump administration's latest move to reduce regulations.
Oil interest groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the Texas Oil and Gas Association, had petitioned the EPA a year ago to reconsider the rule limiting emissions of methane and other pollutants from new and revamped oil and gas wells and systems.
The EPA said in a statement that it would delay the rule's June 3 compliance date by 90 days and take public comments during that period.
Under Democratic President Barack Obama, the EPA released the first methane limits on the facilities in May 2016, saying it would cost energy companies $530 million, but would lead to $690 million in benefits, including lowering medical bills.
Scott Pruitt, the EPA chief in the administration of Republican President Donald Trump, joined dozens of other states in challenging the rule when he was attorney general of oil-producing Oklahoma. Pruitt has said he does not believe that greenhouse gas emissions are the main driver of climate change.
Energy companies had complained that the methane rule would add costs to wells that were not producing much oil and gas, and that it was duplicative as the sector had already reduced the emissions.
Environmentalists believe limiting methane, a gas about 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide in trapping heat, is a low-hanging fruit in efforts to curb climate change.
Michelle Robinson, director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said EPA was favoring industry over science. "Instead of looking backwards to review well-reasoned rules based on clear science, the administration should be moving forward," and extend methane limits, she said.
Wednesday's move signaled another retreat from climate change action after the Trump administration in March halted an effort to gather methane data from existing oil and gas operations to rein in leaks of the powerful greenhouse gas.
In late March, Trump signed an order to undo climate regulations, following up on a campaign promise.
Pruitt said the EPA is continuing to follow through with Trump's order. "American businesses should have the opportunity to review new requirements, assess economic impacts and report back, before those new requirements are finalized,” he said.
Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Grant McCool and Diane Craft