AG Jepsen and Broad Coalition Vow Lawsuit if EPA Continues Ignoring Legal Duty to Control Methane Pollution
Attorney General George Jepsen has joined a coalition of 15 other attorneys general, the California Air Resources Board, and the City of Chicago in notifying the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) of their intention to sue the Agency. In a letter to EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, the coalition provides the required notice of their intention to sue for failing to fulfill its mandatory obligation under the Clean Air Act to control methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources and for "unreasonably delaying" the issuance of such controls.
"Methane is one of six major greenhouse gases directly linked to climate change and the Trump Administration continues to neglect its responsibility to establish guidelines for limiting these emissions," said Attorney General Jepsen. "My office, in partnership with the coalition, is committed to protecting our environment and the public health and welfare. We will fight with every legal means possible to establish proper standards to curb climate change pollution."
Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, warming the climate about 80-times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. 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. Estimates based on EPA data show 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. 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.
Nearly 90 percent of the methane emissions projected for the oil and gas industry in 2018 will come from sources in existence prior to 2012. However, proven, cost-effective methods are readily available to control methane emissions from these existing sources. A 2014 analysis prepared by ICF International found that the industry could cut methane emissions 40 percent below the projected 2018 levels using available technologies and techniques – at an average annual cost of less than $0.01 per thousand cubic feet of natural gas produced. Taking into account the total economic value of the gas that would be recovered, the 40 percent reduction would yield savings of over $100 million dollars per year for the U.S. economy and consumers.
In 2012, Connecticut, along with a coalition of other states, notified EPA of their intent to sue for failing to adopt limits on methane from new and existing oil and gas facilities. In June 2016, EPA finalized standards to control methane emissions from oil and gas operations that were constructed or substantially modified after September 2015. Under the federal Clean Air Act, the regulation of these "new" sources triggered a legal requirement for the Agency also to regulate methane emissions from "existing" sources – emission sources in oil and gas operations in existence before September 2015.
Accordingly, in November 2016, the EPA issued an "Information Collection Request" that sought information from oil and gas operators of "critical" use in addressing existing source emissions, including the number and types of equipment at production facilities, and emission sources and control devices or practices. EPA began receiving the requested information beginning in January 2017.
However, on March 2, 2017, Administrator Pruitt – without any public notice or opportunity for comment – withdrew the Request. Although the coalition's letter makes clear that the information request is not necessary for EPA to issue the required rule, its revocation sent a clear signal that EPA has no intention of meeting its statutory obligation.
In today's letter to Administrator Pruitt, the coalition cites Congressional intent, established Agency practice, and the overwhelming contribution that existing sources make to methane emissions from these operations as support for their contention that EPA is obligated to act "without delay" to finalize controls on methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources. The coalition argues that that EPA's failure to act since September 2015 to issue controls on methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas industry violates the Agency’s non-discretionary duty under the Clean Air Act and is an "unreasonable delay" in setting such controls.
Under the Act, EPA must be provided advance notice of any suit seeking to compel it to act. Today's coalition letter meets this requirement, providing EPA with notice of its intention to sue if, within the required notice period of 60 days (for a nondiscretionary duty claim) and 180 days (for an unreasonable delay claim), the Agency fails to issue methane standards for existing sources in the oil and gas industry.
Attorneys General have taken several other steps to force the Trump Administration to control methane pollution from the oil and gas industry. Last week, a coalition of 14 states, including Connecticut, filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit against EPA’s actions halting regulation of methane emissions from new sources in the oil and gas industry.
In addition to Connecticut, today's coalition includes New York, California, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Mexico, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the California Air Resources Board and the Corporation Counsel for the City of Chicago.
Assistant Attorneys General Scott Koschwitz, Robert Snook, and Matthew Levine, head of the Environment Department, are assisting the Attorney General with this matter.