WASHINGTON, D. C. – Attorney General Karl A. Racine, part of a coalition of 15 state attorneys general and the City of Chicago, has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for ignoring its legal duty to control emissions of methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas – from existing oil and gas operations. Specifically, the suit charges that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has violated the federal Clean Air Act by “unreasonably delaying” its mandatory obligation under the Act to control methane emissions from these operations.
In the lawsuit, the coalition cites clear statutory language, congressional intent, established agency practice, and the large contribution that existing sources make to methane emissions as support for their contention that EPA is obligated to act “without delay” to finalize controls on methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources. EPA has known since at least 2009 that methane endangers public health and welfare, and has long had ample data on cost-effective measures for controlling methane emissions from oil and natural gas sources. The coalition argues that the EPA’s failure to establish guidelines for controlling methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas industry is an “unreasonable delay” in performing a mandatory duty under the Clean Air Act. The suit asks the court to direct EPA to propose and adopt the methane regulations required by the Act for oil and gas operations, following an expeditious deadline established by the Court.
Background on Methane Standards Under the Clean Air Act
Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, warming the climate about 80 times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. Oil and gas operations – production, processing, transmission, and distribution – are the largest single industrial source of methane emissions in the U.S. and the second largest industrial source of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions behind only electric power plants. Based on EPA data, the Environmental Defense Fund estimates that roughly $1.5 billion worth of natural gas – enough to heat more than 5 million homes – leaks or is intentionally released from the oil and gas supply chain each year. The logic of continuing to allow leaks and intentional discharges of methane is especially dubious, as methane itself is a valuable product.
Nearly 90 percent of the methane emissions projected for the oil and gas industry in 2018 will come from sources in existence prior to 2012. A 2014 analysis prepared by ICF International found that the industry could cut methane emissions 40 percent below the projected 2018 levels using available technologies and techniques – at an average annual cost of less than $0.01 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced. Taking into account the total economic value of the gas not released, the 40 percent reduction would yield savings of more than $100 million dollars per year for the U.S. economy and consumers.
In June 2016, EPA finalized standards to control methane emissions from oil and gas operations that were constructed or substantially modified after September 2015. Under the Clean Air Act, when EPA began regulating methane emissions from these “new” sources, it was required to also establish guidelines for controlling methane emissions from “existing” sources – emission sources in oil and gas operations in existence before September 2015.
In recognition of that obligation, in November 2016, EPA issued an “Information Collection Request” that sought information from oil and gas operators of “critical” use in addressing existing sources, including the number and types of equipment at production facilities, and emission sources and control devices or practices. EPA began receiving the requested information beginning in January 2017. However, on March 2, 2017, newly-confirmed EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – without any public notice or opportunity for comment – withdrew the Information Collection Request. Although such a request is not necessary for EPA to issue the required rule, its revocation sent a clear signal that the Trump EPA had no intention of meeting its statutory obligation to control methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations.
As a result, on June 29, 2017, a coalition of 15 attorneys general pledged to sue if, within 180 days, EPA failed to issue methane standards for existing sources in the oil and gas industry. More than 180 days have passed and the Trump EPA has failed to take action on issuing the required standards.
The suit, available here, was filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. It was led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and joined by the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, the District, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington state, as well as the City of Chicago.