November 25, 2019
Contact: Tom Lalley

Twenty-One AGs Blast EPA’s Unlawful Attempt to Stop Regulating Methane Emissions from Oil & Gas Industry

Proposed rule would reverse standards for the U.S.’ largest industrial source of methane, a greenhouse gas up to 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide.


Washington, D.C. California Attorney General Xavier Becerra led a coalition of 21 attorneys general in submitting comments objecting to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed rule that would eliminate all federal regulation of methane emissions from both new and existing sources in the oil and gas industry. The proposed rule would rescind 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 wells, pipelines and storage facilities.
The standards applicable to new sources have been in place for more than three 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.
"Yet again, the Trump Administration is trying to gut a commonsense standard that protects our health and our planet from one of the most potent emissions that contributes to climate change," said California Attorney General Becerra. "EPA’s short-sighted proposal would benefit the very polluters it is charged to watchdog. We demand Administrator Wheeler withdraw this unlawful proposal or we’ll see him in court."
"The EPA has continued to act recklessly in the face of climate change," said New York Attorney General Letitia James. "Increasing hazardous emissions of severe pollutants like methane will hurt Americans across this country, especially our children, and we will not stand idly by while the EPA continues to roll back its previous standards. This is why I am proud to join this coalition of attorneys general to fight back."
"My office continues to fight for New Mexican school children’s right to lost natural gas royalties and has fought President Trump’s illegal attacks on effective methane regulation from the day he took office," said New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas. "The President continues to put industry interests above those of our school children and our environment, and I will keep fighting to ensure that our schools get what they are owed and that our pristine environment is protected."
"The climate change deniers running the Trump administration are ignoring federal law and choosing the interests of the oil and gas industry over protecting our residents and the environment," said Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. "EPA needs to do its job and protect our climate from pollution by withdrawing this dangerous plan."
"Gutting a commonsense rule that protects the health of our environment and of our citizens is contrary to the mission and purpose of the EPA," said Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh. "EPA and the Trump administration have again ignored clear evidence of harm to our natural resources and our communities while siding with corporate polluters."
"Now, more than ever, it is critical that we do everything in our power to combat the climate crisis," said North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein. "However, the Trump administration continues to act recklessly and in violation of the law at our environment’s expense. This proposal is unlawful, wrong-headed, and harmful."
The EPA acknowledges that its proposed rule will increase emissions of methane as well as volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which are a precursor to ozone formation, also known as smog, and pose a significant threat to public health. The EPA’s proposed rule would rescind standards under section 111(b) of the Clean Air Act for methane, VOCs and other pollutants from new and modified oil and gas production facilities. The standards were finalized in June 2016 and the EPA has credited them with annual reductions of 300,000 tons of methane and 150,000 tons of VOCs. In 2025, reductions will be even greater: 510,000 tons of methane, 210,000 tons of VOCs. The 2016 standard that the EPA is now attempting to set aside will also deliver economic benefits worth $35 million in 2020 and $170 million in 2025.

"After spending the last 3 years trying to avoid implementing sensible methane regulations that had the backing of most oil and gas producers, the Trump administration has now come out with what may be its most radical and damaging insult to the climate yet," said David J. Hayes, Executive Director of the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. "As the AGs have highlighted, the administration is walking away from regulations that are not only cost-effective and legally-enforceable, but also desperately necessary to address the worsening climate crisis."
This coalition of AGs also submitted comments in December 2018 on an earlier attempt by the EPA to weaken regulations for new and modified sources of methane emissions in the oil and gas industry.

What the comments say
The rescission of the 2016 standard is arbitrary and capricious and unlawful because:

  • It disregards the substantial adverse impacts of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry;
  • The rule would exempt the transmission and storage segment of oil and gas operations from methane regulation, contradicting previous findings that those segments should be regulated; 
  • The EPA fails to adequately consider the implications of its action on existing sources in the oil and natural gas industry, the largest industrial source of such emissions;
  • The proposed rules’ alternative new interpretation of section 111(b) would be contrary to the Clean Air Act.

Why it’s important

  • Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. Over a 20-year period, one ton of methane has a global warming potential that is 84 to 87 times greater than carbon dioxide. 
  • The oil and natural gas sector is the largest domestic source of climate-warming methane. 
  • The existing 2016 standard is expected to deliver significant economic, health and environmental benefits.
  • Even oil and gas companies support regulations on methane.

The deep dive
Check out our page on oil and gas industry methane emissions which includes background on the issue and links to recent actions. 


About the State Energy & Environmental Impact Center
The State Energy & Environmental Impact Center (State Impact Center) is a non-partisan Center at the NYU School of Law that is dedicated to helping state attorneys general fight against regulatory rollbacks and advocate for clean energy, climate change, and environmental values and protections. It was launched in August 2017 with support from Bloomberg Philanthropies.
For more information, visit our website