Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin has joined a coalition of seven states, which on Tuesday notified the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of their intent to sue the Agency for violating the Clean Air Act by failing to address methane emissions from the oil & natural gas industry.
EPA has determined that methane is a powerful climate change pollutant emitted by the industry in large quantities. Despite this, and despite the availability of affordable methods for controlling the industry's methane emissions, EPA ignored methane in recent updates to air pollution emission standards for the industry. The EPA's decision not to directly address the emissions of methane from oil & natural gas operations – including fracking -- leaves almost 95% of these emissions uncontrolled. Therefore, the multi-state coalition charges that EPA violated the Clean Air Act when it neglected methane in its recent action.
Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas. Pound for pound, it warms the climate about 25 times more than carbon-dioxide. Indeed, EPA itself has found that the impacts of climate change caused by methane include "increased air and ocean temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, melting and thawing of global glaciers and ice, increasingly severe weather events -- such as hurricanes of greater intensity -- and sea level rise." In 2009, EPA determined that methane and other greenhouse gases endanger the public's health and welfare.
"With this action I continue to fight against the threat that unabated greenhouse gas pollution poses to our families, our communities and our economy," Attorney General Kilmartin said. "It is clear that methane from oil & natural gas development contributes substantially to climate change pollution, yet federal regulators have failed to require the industry to use available and cost-effective measures to control these emissions. As of Tuesday, our coalition is putting EPA on notice that we are prepared to sue to force action on curbing climate change pollution from the oil and gas industry."
The EPA has determined that oil & natural gas production wells, gathering lines, processing facilities, storage tanks and transmission and distribution pipelines emit over 15 million metric tons of methane annually -- the equivalent yearly climate change pollution of 64 million cars. As such, the industry is the single largest source of man-made methane emissions in the U.S., and the second largest industrial source of domestic greenhouse gas emissions behind only electric power plants.
The Clean Air Act requires EPA to set emission controls -- known as "New Source Performance Standards" or "NSPS" -- for industrial sectors that cause or significantly contribute to air pollution. In August 2012, EPA revised NSPS regulations for the oil & natural gas industry. These regulations included, for the first time, federal air emission standards for natural gas wells developed through hydraulic fracturing, commonly called "fracking."
However, the revised regulations do not address the industry's methane emissions. In fact, although EPA concluded that its regulations would have "co-benefits" in reducing methane emissions, its decision not to directly address the emissions of methane from oil and natural gas operations leaves almost 95% of these emissions uncontrolled.
In the notice of intent-to-sue, the multi-state coalition charges that the Agency broke the law by delaying a decision on whether to set NSPS standards for methane emissions from the industry. The coalition's notice indicates that the coalition intends to file suit against EPA in federal court unless the Agency curbs these emissions from the oil & gas industry.
The Clean Air Act requires parties to provide EPA a 60-day prior notice of intent-to-sue. Joining in Tuesday's notice, along with Rhode Island, are the states of Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, and Vermont.