In the latest effort to challenge attempts by the Trump Administration to ignore its legal duty to control emissions of methane from existing oil and gas operations, Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin and a coalition of 15 Attorneys General, the California Air Resources Board, and the City of Chicago put the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on notice that intends to file a lawsuit to ensure the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for failing to fulfill its mandatory obligation under the Clean Air Act to control methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources and for "unreasonably delaying" the issuance of such controls.
The "Notice of Intent" to sue is a required first step the coalition must take in order to bring forward a lawsuit under the Clean Air Act.
The coalition includes the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the California Air Resources Board and the Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago.
"For years, we have fought to strengthen the Clean Air Act and hold the EPA and polluters accountable. Yet, since the Trump administration had taken office, the EPA has all but forgone its watchdog role, and, worse, rolled back regulations that will have a negative impact on the health and safety of Rhode Islanders," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "This administration is making the EPA nothing more than a paper tiger that is controlled by the coal and fossil fuel industry. Enough is enough. If the Administration won't do the right thing by the citizens of this country, then we, as Attorneys General, will."
Click here to read the coalition's notice of intent to sue.
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 over 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, being the primary component of natural gas.
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. However, proven, cost-effective methods are readily available to control methane emissions from these existing sources. 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 that would be recovered, the 40 percent reduction would yield savings of over $100 million dollars per year for the U.S. economy and consumers.
In today's letter to Administrator Pruitt, the coalition cites Congressional intent, established Agency practice, and the overwhelming contribution that existing sources make to methane emissions from these operations 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. The coalition argues that that EPA's failure to act since September 2015 to issue controls on methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas industry violates the Agency's non-discretionary duty under the Clean Air Act and is an "unreasonable delay" in setting such controls.
Under the Act, EPA must be provided advance notice of any suit seeking to compel it to act. Today's coalition letter meets this requirement, providing EPA with notice of its intention to sue if, within the required notice period of 60 days (for a nondiscretionary duty claim) and 180 days (for an unreasonable delay claim), the Agency fails to issue methane standards for existing sources in the oil and gas industry.