13 AGs Oppose EPA’s Indefensible Rollback of New Source Performance Standards for Methane for the Oil and Gas Industry

The EPA has violated the Clean Air Act by providing “no factual support or evidence” for its proposed changes; the Agency is relying on only vague “uncertainties” to justify its proposed rule.

The EPA’s assertion that its proposed rule is the best system of emission reduction “simply defies logic.”

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
December 18, 2018
Contact: Christopher Gray
Christopher.Gray@nyu.edu
(929)-333-6213

Washington, D.C.— California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led a multi-state coalition of 13 attorneys general in submitting comments yesterday, strongly objecting to the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule rolling back Obama-era New Source Performance Standards regulating methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and hazardous air pollutants for new, reconstructed, and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.

The EPA’s proposed rollback would cause significant increases in methane emissions, as well as other forms of dangerous air pollution, carrying a cumulative climate change impact that would exceed the contributions of roughly 150 countries, according to the attorneys general. In total, the coalition noted that the proposed rule would result in estimated methane emission increases of 380,000 short tons between 2019 and 2025. It would also result in an increase of 100,000 tons of VOCs, and 3,800 tons of other hazardous air pollutants during the same time period. In their comment letter, the attorneys general cited extensive research confirming that vulnerable populations including children, seniors, and people suffering from chronic respiratory diseases such as asthma are particularly at risk from these forms of air pollution.

“It makes zero sense to gut a commonsense standard that protects our planet from one of the most potent emissions contributing to climate change,” said Attorney General Becerra. “Once again, the Trump Administration proposes a short-sighted rule benefitting corporate polluters over the well-being of our children and communities. We call on Acting Administrator Wheeler to immediately withdraw this unlawful and reckless proposal.”

The multi-state coalition noted that the EPA’s proposed rule violates several tenets of the Clean Air Act, including the law’s requirement that new standards must represent the best system of emissions reduction. The attorneys general also pointed to serious flaws in the regulatory process used by the EPA, noting that the agency failed to address the robust administrative record developed by the Obama administration in its proposed replacement rule. This failure is particularly problematic since the EPA used the same data it had previously relied on to develop its more stringent standard just two years ago – rendering this new rule “arbitrary and capricious” under the Administrative Procedure Act.  

The coalition also raised serious concerns with the EPA’s economic justification for its rollback, noting that its proposed rule is unsupported by data or economic analysis demonstrating that regulated industries are unable to comply with the existing, Obama-era standard. The EPA has failed to provide data demonstrating that compliance costs for the current standard are unreasonable, and did not present any evidence that the rollback’s purported cost-savings to industry outweigh the current standard’s benefits.

“The Trump administration has become known for its sloppy rulemaking and poor regulatory analysis, but this rollback represents a new low as it appears to have been developed without anything resembling a fact-based justification” said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “The EPA has simply failed to provide any evidence quantifying its proposed rule’s cost savings to industry, even withdrawing its own information collection request to industry to make it harder to determine actual compliance costs for the 2016 Standard. Now the Trump administration is preparing to expose vulnerable populations to dangerous increases in air pollution and put the planet at even greater risk of catastrophic climate change on the basis of vague assertions and unproven claims. The attorneys general have both the facts and the law on their side.”

In addition to California, attorneys general of Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington joined the multi-state coalition. The City of Chicago also joined the comments.

BACKGROUND
Section 111 of the Clean Air Act requires the EPA to regulate all categories of stationary sources of air pollution that endanger public health or safety. Under Section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act, the EPA is required to establish performance standards for air pollution from new stationary sources, and the agency must review and revise these standards every eight years.

In August 2016, the Obama administration finalized New Source Performance Standards (the 2016 Standard) reducing emissions of methane, VOCs and other forms of hazardous air pollution from new stationary (or non-vehicular) oil and gas sources. The 2016 Standard was a key component of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan, and was central to the Obama administration’s strategy for cutting methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by 40 to 45 percent by 2025. Recent studies have shown that as many as 13 million metric tons of methane are emitted annually as a result of leakages in oil and gas industry equipment, a figure that largely offsets the benefit of natural gas replacing coal-fired power plants.

The 2016 Standard requires oil and gas companies to monitor their equipment for leaks at least two times per year at all well sites, and four times per year at all compressor stations. It also mandates that all detected leaks are repaired within thirty days of discovery, and requires all affected facilities to complete annual compliance reports with data on all leak and repair activities. The EPA’s proposed rule to replace the 2016 Standards significantly reduces these monitoring and repair requirements, and exempts companies from monitoring or repairing leaks at abandoned sites.

In May 2017 then EPA-Administrator Scott Pruitt issued a three-month delay for industry compliance with the 2016 Standard, before ultimately proposing a two-year suspension rule. State attorneys general and environmental groups subsequently won a key legal victory in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia when the court found the EPA’s compliance delay “arbitrary and capricious,” forcing the agency to drop its proposed suspension rule and develop a replacement rule through a substantive notice-and-comment process.

ABOUT THE STATE ENERGY & ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT CENTER
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to working with state attorneys general to protect and advance clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies. For more information, visit http://www.law.nyu.edu/centers/state-impact.