Attorney General Peter F. Kilmartin, part of a coalition of 15 Attorneys General and the City of Chicago, today filed another lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for once again shirking its legal duty under the Clean Air Act to control certain pollutants. Specifically, the suit charges that the 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 existing oil and gas operations.
Attorney General Kilmartin and the coalition signaled this lawsuit in June 2017 when the group pledged to sue the EPA 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 EPA has failed to take action on issuing the required standards. The lawsuit is the seventh filed against the EPA and Administrator Pruitt for failure to abide by the Clean Air Act.
"We gave the EPA ample opportunity to comply with this measure of the Clean Air Act, and yet the agency has failed miserably again at fulfilling its duties to hold polluters to the standard set forth in the Act," said Attorney General Kilmartin. "For years, we have fought to strengthen the Clean Air Act and hold the EPA and polluters accountable. Since Administrator Pruitt has taken the helm of the agency, 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. The EPA is quickly becoming nothing more than a paper tiger that is controlled by the coal and fossil fuel industry. Enough is enough."
The suit, available below, was filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City of Chicago.
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 not released, the 40 percent reduction would yield savings of over $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 under the Act 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 EPA had no intention of meeting its statutory obligation to control methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations.
In today's 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, for example, through the Natural Gas STAR Program, which started in 1993. 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.