By Framingham Source Staff | September 14, 2020
BOSTON – Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey today, September 14, joined a coalition of 24 states and municipalities in suing the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) over its rollback of critical regulations that limit emissions of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, as well as volatile organic compounds and other hazardous pollutants from new, reconstructed and modified sources in the oil and natural gas industry.
“President Trump and the climate change deniers running the EPA continue to be far more interested in propping up the fossil fuel industry than actually protecting public health and the environment,” Healey said. “Since the EPA won’t do its job, we are suing to force the agency to regulate dangerous pollutants and protect the air we breathe.”
Joining AG Healey in filing today’s lawsuit are the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the California Air Resources Board, the City and County of Denver, and the City of Chicago.
AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau Chief Melissa Hoffer is handling this matter for Massachusetts.
EPA finalized the country’s first-ever standards limiting methane emissions from new, reconstructed and modified sources in the oil and gas sector in 2016, estimating that the standards would prevent 510,000 tons of methane emissions and result in a net benefit of $170 million in 2025. But EPA announced a set of new rules gutting these standards last month.
The new rules include technical amendments rolling back leak detection and monitoring requirements, as well as policy amendments rescinding requirements to regulate methane and removing the transmission and storage category entirely from regulation.
The coalition intends to argue that, by EPA’s own estimate, the rollback of these standards will increase emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, and other hazardous air pollutants by 850,000, 140,000, and 5,000 tons respectively by 2030 putting the health and safety of vulnerable communities and the climate at serious risk.
Methane is a climate super pollutant that is up to 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its ability to trap heat over a 20-year timeframe. The coalition intends to argue that EPA’s rollback is a violation of 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 the pollutant without any justification.
EPA’s rollback will also eliminate the agency’s long-ignored duty to regulate the approximately 850,000 existing sources of methane emissions in the oil and natural gas industry.
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 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.
These wasteful leaks and intentional discharges of methane, could, by EPA’s own admission, be controlled today with readily available and cost-effective technologies and operational changes, and indeed, several states have established state law requirements to reduce harmful existing source methane emissions.
Massachusetts has long advocated for the issuance and maintenance of regulations for both new and existing sources of methane emissions. In July, AG Healey, New York Attorney General Letitia James, and California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led a coalition of states and the City of Chicago in filing a motion for summary judgment in an existing lawsuit arguing EPA violated the Clean Air Act by unreasonably delaying its mandatory obligation under the Act to control methane emissions from existing sources in oil and gas operations.
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