Later today, EPA will announce its plan to rescind critical methane pollution standards for the oil and natural gas industry, a move that will not only hurt our climate, but also puts public health at risk. Beyond rescinding methane standards, the EPA also announced that it will weaken some requirements for the industry to find and fix equipment leaks and will further rescind both methane and volatile organic compound standards for an entire chunk of the industry.
The Administration also finalized a new policy position that an air pollutant from a source category cannot be regulated under the new source performance standard program unless a formal finding is made that these emissions contribute significantly to dangerous pollution – a finding frequently referred to as a significant contribution finding – despite failing to actually propose this change.
In essence, EPA’s actions mean that the country’s largest industrial source of methane pollution will have no federally required methane standards controls. Worse yet, it is the Trump Administration’s attempt to prevent EPA – now or in the future – from carrying out its duty to clean up the vast majority of oil and gas pollution sources, including hundreds of thousands of older sites that are exempt from all EPA standards for air pollution.
The rescission couldn’t come at a worse time. Since 2016, these standards have reduced methane emissions by the equivalent of 330 million metric tons of CO2e—critical progress that will now be halted. By EPA’s own estimation, as a result of today’s rescission, thousands of sites in the transmission and storage segment already subject to the 2016 rules will no longer have to find and fix their leaks. All of this is magnified by EPA’s choice to deregulate methane, which could have dire consequences since EPA claims it removes the agency’s duty to address existing sources within the industry.
Despite EPA’s rhetoric, we know that the 2016 rules are reasonable, common-sense measures. Indeed, several major operators including BP, Equinor, Exxon, and Shell have supported EPA’s continued direct regulation of methane.
“EPA’s methane standards have been in force for four years, helping to reduce methane emissions throughout the country,” said Sarah Smith, Super Pollutants Program Director at Clean Air Task Force. “Today’s revisions show that EPA is once again burying its head in the sand and putting the interests of the oil and gas lobby ahead of the public interest by choosing to ignore our pressing climate change problem and allow oil and gas operators to emit even more methane.”
Analysis by the EPA indicates that air pollution from the oil and gas sector leads to more than a million asthma attacks in children each year and numerous other health impacts. As the country experiences a public health crisis, more than ever the EPA should be working to improve air quality. But instead, the EPA is removing its top tool for reducing pollution from the vast domestic oil and gas industry.
“The changes are devastating for public health as well as our climate,” said Smith. “At a time when communities are dealing with surging COVID-19 cases, it is disgraceful and heartless to remove air pollution protections known to improve air quality and people’s ability to breathe.”