Attorney General Becerra Seeks Court Order to Compel EPA to Reduce Methane Emissions from Existing Oil and Natural Gas Operations

Monday, July 6, 2020
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SACRAMENTO – California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, New York Attorney General Letitia James, and the Environmental Defense Fund, co-leading a multistate coalition, filed a motion requesting that the U.S. District Court for Washington D.C. compel the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas operations, as is required under federal law.  The action is a part of a lawsuit brought in April 2018 against the EPA for “unreasonably delaying” its mandatory obligation under the Clean Air Act to control methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas operations. The motion asks the Court to grant summary judgment in favor of the States, declare the EPA’s four-year delay unreasonable, and order the EPA to develop and expeditiously issue guidelines to control methane emissions from existing sources in oil and natural gas operations. 

"The Trump Administration wants to stick its head in the sand for another three and a half years to set national methane standards," said Attorney General Becerra. "California has had meaningful and achievable methane standards in place for years to protect our communities. It’s a tired and deadly game that EPA plays."

Methane is many times more effective at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, and the lion's share of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector – up to 90 percent – comes from existing equipment. Reducing methane emissions is an important component of California’s climate change strategy, as illustrated by the California Air Resources Board’s regulation limiting methane emissions from both new and existing oil and natural gas sector sources. 

Oil and natural 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. About 850,000 existing oil and natural gas sources account for the majority of emissions from that sector. 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 natural 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.

Since at least 2016, the Clean Air Act has required the EPA to regulate methane from existing sources in oil and natural gas operations. Recognizing the urgency of reducing dangerous emissions, the EPA set a course to “swiftly” develop guidelines for methane emissions from these sources, and, had the agency stayed on course, it would have already issued them. Instead, in early 2017, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt abruptly halted the process, effectively terminating all agency work to issue existing source guidelines. In their motion, the coalition argues that the EPA stopped the process without any consideration of the law or facts and with no public input, putting our communities and our climate at risk.

Attorneys General Becerra, Healey, and James are joined by the attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City of Chicago, in filing the motion.

A copy of the motion can be found here.

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