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Statement on Opening Legal Actions Against EPA Rescission of Two Regulations on Methane Emissions

September 15, 2020 Work Area: Methane

The National Parks Conservation Association and Earthworks, represented by attorneys from Clean Air Task Force, joined other environmental groups in filing two lawsuits in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia challenging EPA’s unlawful rules that rescind important air pollution standards for the oil and natural gas industry. The two rules, which EPA published separately in the Federal Register, rescind the EPA’s first ever methane-based standards that established the first ever methane-based regulations for the oil and gas industry, while also rescinding methane and volatile organic compound standards for an entire segment of the industry and significantly weakening requirements to find and fix leaks.  Since their inception in 2016, these rules have reduced methane emissions by an estimated 330 million tons of carbon dioxide-equivalent (“CO2e”) – comparable to the annual emissions of 85 coal-fired power plants – and provided significant public health protections, especially for marginalized communities surrounding oil and gas operations, who are bearing the brunt of air pollution and climate change.

In the first rule, published yesterday, EPA has completely rescinded the regulations addressing methane from all sources in the oil and gas industry. Additionally, EPA decided it would no longer regulate transmission and storage segments of oil and gas development, as it has done for years. Now, in addition to deregulation of methane, smog forming volatile organic compounds (VOCs) from these source types will no longer be reduced.  EPA’s deregulation will have a disastrous impact leading not only to increased emissions from new development but also inhibiting future requirements of enormous amounts of methane, VOCs and other toxic air pollutants, such as benzene and toluene from across the oil and gas supply chain. Because this rule is effective immediately, the groups asked the Court to either vacate the rule, or to stay its effectiveness pending the outcome of litigation.

In the second rule, published today, EPA has weakened the requirements for industry to perform leak detection and repair inspections at well pads and compressor stations.  In regard to well pads, EPA has created an additional loophole, exempting operators from performing any inspections at their well pads once the well becomes low-producing.  And for compressor stations, EPA has reduced the required frequency of inspection from four times to only twice per year. This rule is not effective for sixty days, and the groups are still evaluating their next steps.

 “To gut EPA’s methane safeguards, the Trump Administration has ignored oil companies’ opposition, peer-reviewed health studies, overwhelming climate science, and the law. So we’re suing them,” said Earthworks Policy Director Lauren Pagel.

“The climate crisis is here, devastating national parks and our communities faster than expected, yet the administration is gutting commonsense regulations to reduce pollution like methane that are driving it,” said Stephanie Kodish, Clean Air Program Director for National Parks Conservation Association (NPCA). “We said we would continue to fight, and today, we are taking action to hold EPA accountable to its mission to protect the health of our environment and people.”

“EPA’s rules are riddled with legal and scientific flaws and we look forward to our day in court,” said Darin Schroeder, attorney at Clean Air Task Force who is representing NPCA and Earthworks.

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