Lawsuit From Environmental Groups Challenges EPA’s Methane Rule Pause

By Yessenia Funes Jun 06, 2017

Six environmental groups hit the Trump administration with a lawsuit yesterday (June 5) following the EPA’s decision last week, on May 31, to hold off on improving performance standards for the oil and gas industry to reduce methane emissions.

Former President Barack Obama issued an updated rule last year in May to help curb emissions from methane, a greenhouse gas that traps heat at almost 30 times the rate that carbon dioxide does. They were finalized in June and set to take effect Saturday (June 3).

The 2016 New Source Performance Standards set new regulations on pneumatic pumps at oil and natural gas well sites, as well as set certification standards for the pumps, to prevent unnecessary methane leaks. It would have curbed not only methane emissions but also volatile organic compounds that create smog and other toxic air pollutants like benzene. However, Obama’s successor has appeared adamant at repealing such efforts.

The EPA called for a 90-day stay of the rule, so oil and gas industry officials don’t need to comply with the regulations. The agency will prepare a new rule as part of the reconsideration process EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt promised the oil and gas industry in an April letter. This rule would be open for public comment. As the agency stated, this move is in-line with President Donald Trump’s Energy Independence Executive Order, which he signed March 28.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of the six environmental groups that filed the petition contesting the EPA’s latest move, wrote in an online statement that this decision is in violation of the Clean Air Act. It also said that the federal agency is required by law to provide advance public notice or opportunity for public comment before issuing a 90-day stay.

“In its haste to do favors for its polluter cronies, the Trump EPA has broken the law,” said Meleah Geertsma, senior attorney at NRDC. “The Trump administration does not have unlimited power to put people’s health in jeopardy with unchecked, unilateral executive action like this. Stopping methane leaks is a no-brainer—avoiding wasted gas, creating jobs, fighting climate change and cutting cancer-causing pollution all at once.”

Other groups in the suit include the Clean Air Council and the Sierra Club. They filed the petition in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Though this is the administration’s latest effort to remove methane regulations, it has already attempted to do so in other forms. The GOP-controlled Congress wrote a resolution earlier this year, which failed to pass the U.S. Senate May 10, that would have repealed a separate legislation to limit methane emissions from natural gas drilling on public and tribal lands.

(H/t The Hill)