Attorney General Becerra Leads Multistate Lawsuit Challenging Trump Administration Rollback of Regulations that Limit Methane Emissions

Monday, September 14, 2020
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra and the California Air Resources Board (CARB), leading a coalition of 24 states and municipalities, today filed 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 carbon 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 West is on fire, the South floods, the Midwest gets ripped apart by super-tornadoes, and the East prepares for calamitous hurricanes. The Trump Administration ignores the dire reality of the climate crisis at our peril,” said Attorney General Becerra. “At this critical juncture in history, we need leaders who step up and propose solutions. Instead, we get President Trump’s version of the EPA. We won't let the EPA gut critical pollution emissions standards and allow super pollutants like methane to destroy our atmosphere.”

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 power plants. In an effort 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 result in a net benefit of $170 million in 2025 alone. 

On August 13, 2020, the EPA announced two sets of amendments gutting the 2016 standards. The amendments 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.

The first set of amendments, the policy amendments, rescind requirements to regulate methane and remove the transmission and storage category entirely from regulation. In today's lawsuit, the coalition argues that these amendments violate the Clean Air Act because they arbitrarily eliminate pollution controls from the transmission and storage segment of the oil and natural gas sector and entirely abandon the regulation of methane without any justification. 

The second set of amendments, the technical amendments, roll back leak detection and monitoring requirements. A California-led coalition of states and municipalities intends to file a lawsuit challenging the technical amendments following their publication in the Federal Register.

Attorney General Becerra has long fought back against the Trump Administration’s efforts to dismantle standards that reduce dangerous methane emissions. In July, Attorney General Becerra, CARB, and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas prevailed for the third time in lawsuits challenging the Trump Administration’s attempt to weaken or repeal the Waste Prevention Rule, a commonsense measure to reduce the enormous waste of natural gas on public lands. That same month, Attorney General Becerra, co-leading a multistate coalition, filed a motion for summary judgment in a lawsuit against the EPA for unreasonably delaying issuance of guidelines limiting methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and natural gas sector. In 2018, Attorney General Becerra led a multistate lawsuit against the EPA over its failure to implement a landfill methane regulation.

Attorney General Becerra and CARB are joined by the attorneys general of Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, 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 Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the City and County of Denver, and the City of Chicago in filing the lawsuit. 

A copy of the lawsuit can be found here.

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