Asks Court To Find Trump Administration Disregarded Its Legal Obligation To Curb Methane Emissions From Existing Sources In The Oil And Natural Gas Sector
Asks Court To Find Trump Administration Disregarded Its Legal Obligation To Curb Methane Emissions Attorney General Maura Healey co-led a coalition of states and the City of Chicago in demanding the Trump Administration stop ignoring its legal duty to control emissions of methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas – from existing sources in the oil and natural gas sector, putting the health and safety of communities and the climate at risk.
The motion for summary judgment, co-led by AG Healey, New York Attorney General Letitia James, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, and the Environmental Defense Fund, is a part of a lawsuit brought in April 2018 against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for violating the federal Clean Air Act by unreasonably delaying its mandatory obligation under the Act to control methane emissions from existing oil and gas operations for four years. The motion asks the Court to grant summary judgment in favor of Plaintiffs, declare EPA’s four-year delay unreasonable, and order EPA to develop and expeditiously issue a rule to control methane emissions from existing sources in oil and gas operations.
“Methane is a super pollutant that poses a significant danger to the environment and public health, and yet the Trump Administration is doing everything in its power to allow the oil and gas industry to destroy the air we breathe,” AG Healey said. “We cannot let EPA ignore its legal obligations under federal law to protect our communities and prevent climate change. We are asking the Court to stop this unconscionable, illegal delay.”
The majority of methane pollution in the oil and natural gas sector comes from the approximately 850,000 existing oil and gas sources. 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. 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.
Since at least 2016, the Clean Air Act has required EPA to regulate methane from existing sources in oil and gas operations. Recognizing its statutory duty, and the urgency of reducing dangerous emissions, in 2016 EPA set a course to “swiftly” develop regulations for methane emissions from these sources. Had the agency stayed on course, it would have already issued existing source methane regulations. Instead, in early 2017, the new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt abruptly pulled the plug on the process, effectively terminating all agency work to promulgate a regulation. The coalition argues that the Pruitt stopped the process without any consideration of the law or facts, and with no public input, putting our communities and our climate at risk.
Massachusetts also has long advocated for the issuance and maintenance of regulations regarding new sources of methane emissions.
Methane is a particularly powerful agent of climate change. Pound for pound, methane warms the earth 84 to 86 times more than carbon dioxide for the first two decades after release and 28 to 36 times more over a 100-year time frame.
Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), which have significant local health effects, are also emitted in large quantities by the more than 850,000 existing oil and gas wells that would be subject to an Existing Source Rule, many of which are near schools and homes. Approximately 9,300,000 people live within a half mile of an existing well, including 600,000 children under the age of five and 1,400,000 people over the age of 65 years, who are especially sensitive to the health risks posed by ozone and other local air pollution.
Joining AG Healey in Friday’s motion for summary judgment are the attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, and the City of Chicago.
This case is being led for Massachusetts by Melissa Hoffer, Chief of AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau, and Assistant Attorney General Turner Smith, Special Assistant Attorney General Megan Herzog, and Administrative Assistant Jessica Young, also of AG Healey’s Energy and Environment Bureau.