EPA Finalizes Rule to Eliminate Federal Regulation of Methane Emissions From Oil & Gas Industry
Statement of David J. Hayes on today’s announcement of a final rule that is expected to lead to 5-13 million metric tons of methane emissions annually.
August 13, 2020
Washington, D.C. — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today finalized a rule that rescinds all federal regulation of methane emissions from both new and existing sources in the oil and gas industry. The rule rolls back sections of New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) under the Clean Air Act that require oil and gas companies to detect and fix methane leaks from production wells, processing facilities, pipelines and storage facilities. The standards for new sources have been in place for more than four years, and have been under attack by the administration since it came into office. The EPA has been required by law to promulgate similar restrictions on existing sources of methane emissions in the oil and gas industry. State attorneys general have sued the EPA for failing to do so. David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law and former Interior Deputy Secretary in the Obama and Clinton administrations, released the following statement in response to today’s announcement:
“Killing regulations for the largest source of industrial methane may be the starkest manifestation of the Trump administration’s anti-climate agenda yet.
“Methane is the rocket fuel of greenhouse gases, trapping heat at roughly 84 times the rate of carbon dioxide. Thankfully, oil and gas operators can cost-effectively contain the gas, and the EPA has clear legal authority to require the industry to do just that. Indeed, major oil and gas companies, including BP, Shell and ExxonMobil, have called on EPA not to roll back methane leak detection and repair requirements. They recognize the importance of reducing their industry’s methane emissions — emissions that can wipe out the potential climate advantage that natural gas may have over coal.
“In short, this should be a pro-climate ‘gimme’ for the EPA. But the Trump administration is showing, once again, that it is dead-set against following the law and regulating methane and other greenhouse gases that are profoundly disrupting our climate. Rather than promoting responsible corporate environmental stewardship, the administration is again siding with industry cost-cutters over our shared future.
“The administration’s latest gambit will not succeed. It will lose in the courts again — as it did recently in the context of addressing methane emissions from oil and gas operations on our public lands. But by refusing to lift a regulatory finger to address the climate crisis, the administration is making all of us losers too.”
Timeline of Federal Regulation of Methane Emissions
- June 2016 — The EPA issues a final rule setting New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for new and modified sources of methane emissions from the oil and gas industry.
- June 2017 — The EPA delays by 90 days compliance deadlines for core elements of the 2016 rule and, two weeks later, proposes to extend that delay for two years.
- July 2017 — The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit rules that the EPA cannot unilaterally put off compliance deadlines in existing rules and instead must conduct a full notice-and-comment rulemaking process before it can do so.
- August 2017 — A coalition of state attorneys general files extensive comments with the EPA objecting to the agency’s unlawful attempt to impose the two-year delay.
- October 2018 — The EPA publishes its proposal for rolling back the 2016 rule for reducing methane emission from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.
- December 2018 — A coalition of thirteen attorneys general files comments opposing the proposed rule noting that it violates the Clean Air Act.
- April 2018 — A coalition of 15 attorneys general files a lawsuit against the EPA for unreasonably delaying its mandatory obligation under the Clean Air Act to control methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas industry, noting that the agency’s regulation of new sources triggered its mandatory obligation under the Act to issue regulations on controlling methane emissions from existing sources. The AGs cited the inappropriate withdrawal in March 2017 of an information collection request that had been issued during the prior administration “without any notice or opportunity for comment.”
Opposing Attempts to Eliminate Federal Regulation
- August 2019 — With the agency having not yet finalized its October 2018 proposal to roll back the 2016 rule covering new and modified sources, the EPA advances a new proposal to eliminate any federal regulation of methane emissions from both new and existing sources.
- November 2019 — A coalition of 21 attorneys general files comments opposing the August 2019 proposed rule. The attorneys general note that the proposal violates the Clean Air Act because the EPA has a statutory obligation to regulate methane emissions from the oil and natural gas source category after it had determined that the source category contributes significantly to air pollution — including methane — that may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare.
About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center:
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center at NYU School of Law is a nonpartisan academic center at NYU School of Law. The Center is dedicated to working towards a healthy and safe environment, guided by inclusive and equitable principles. The Center studies and supports the work of state attorneys general (AGs) in defending, enforcing, and promoting strong laws and policies in the areas of climate, environmental justice, environmental protection, and clean energy.