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Post date: June 29 2017

A.G. Schneiderman Leads 15 AGs Vowing Lawsuit If Trump Administration Continues Ignoring Legal Duty To Control Methane Pollution

News from Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman

June 29, 2017

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Twitter: @AGSchneiderman


Coalition Files Notice Of Intent To Sue Trump EPA For Flouting Clean Air Act Requirements For Existing Oil And Gas Operations Existing Oil And Gas Operations Are Largest Industrial Source Of Methane, An Extremely Potent Greenhouse Gas

Proven, Cost-Effective Measures Would Slash Industry Methane Emissions By 40%, Yielding Over $100 Million In Annual Savings

Schneiderman: Again And Again, Trump’s EPA Puts Polluters Before New Yorkers’ Health And Safety – And We Will Keep Fighting Back

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman, leading a coalition of 15 Attorneys General, put the Trump Administration on notice today that they plan to sue if the Administration continues to ignore its legal duty to control emissions of methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas – from existing oil and gas operations. In a letter to Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, the coalition provides the required notice of their intention to sue the Agency 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.       

The coalition includes the Attorneys General of New York, California, Connecticut, 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.

“Again and again, the Trump administration puts the interests of polluters before the health and safety of New Yorkers. But we’ve made clear: we won’t hesitate to fight back,” said Attorney General Schneiderman. “EPA has a clear legal obligation to control methane pollution. It’s continued failure to do so is not only illegal, but undermines public health and our environment, while squandering annual savings of over $100 million.”

Click here to read the coalition’s notice of intent to sue.

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.  Based on EPA 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 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.

Attorney General Schneiderman put the EPA on notice in December 2012 that it had a legal obligation under the Clean Air Act to regulate methane emissions 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, 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, EPA 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 the Trump 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 the 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.

Attorney General Schneiderman and his fellow 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 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 February, Attorney General Schneiderman led a coalition of seven state Attorneys General and two environmental agencies in urging U.S. Senate leadership to oppose a Congressional Review Act resolution to repeal a rule regulating methane emissions from oil and gas operations on public lands. On May 10, the Senate voted down the resolution – marking the first time that Congress failed in their attempt to use the Act to overturn a regulation adopted by the prior Administration.

This matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Brian M. Lusignan, Affirmative Section Chief Morgan A. Costello, Senior Counsel for Air Pollution and Climate Change Litigation Michael J. Myers, and Chief Scientist Alan Belensz of the Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Bureau.  The Bureau is led by Bureau Chief Lemuel M. Srolovic and is part of the Division of Social Justice, which is led by Executive Deputy Attorney General for Social Justice Alvin Bragg.

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