|RICHMOND (September 14, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring has joined a coalition of 24 states and municipalities in filing a lawsuit challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule gutting standards that limit emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, and other hazardous pollutants from new, reconstructed, and modified facilities in the oil and natural gas industry. Methane is a super-pollutant up to 87 times more potent than carbo dioxide in its ability to trap heat over a 20-year timeframe. According to the EPA’s own estimates, the rollback of these standards will increase emissions of methane by 850,000 tons between 2021 and 2030 – or 19,000,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent – accelerating the impacts of climate change and threatening public health, particularly to children, older adults, and those suffering from chronic lung disease and asthma.
“The Trump Administration clearly has no regard for protecting our environment and keeping our air clean because they continue to rollback critical environmental regulations,” said Attorney General Herring. “Rolling back these methane emission standards will create dirtier air and further undermine our efforts to reverse the devastating impacts of climate change. The Trump Administration and the EPA must be held accountable for completely abandoning their responsibility to combat climate change and illegally rolling back important emissions standards and regulations.”
Oil and natural gas operations – production, processing, transmission, and storage – 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 the EPA’s own 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. To address these emissions, the EPA finalized the first ever standards limiting methane emission from new, reconstructed, and modified sources in the oil and natural gas sector in 2016. The EPA estimated that the standards would prevent 510,000 tons of methane emissions and resulted in a net benefit of $170 million by 2025.
On August 13, 2020, the EPA announced a set of rules gutting the 2016 standards. The rules include policy amendments rescinding requirements to regulate methane and removing the transmission and storage category entirely from regulation, as well as technical amendments rolling back leak detection and monitoring requirements. Together, these changes are expected to increase emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, and other hazardous air pollutants by 850,000, 140,000, and 5,000 tons respectively by 2030.
In today’s lawsuit challenging the policy amendments, Attorney General Herring and his colleagues argue that the EPA’s rollback of the standards violates the Clean Air Act because it arbitrarily eliminates pollution controls from the transmission and storage segment of the oil and natural gas sector and entirely abandons the regulation of methane without any justification.
The coalition also intends to file a lawsuit challenging the technical amendments following their publication in the Federal Register.
Joining Attorney General Herring in filing today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the California Resources Board, the City of Chicago, the City and County of Denver, and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.