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Environmentalists sue EPA for halting methane rule

05 Jun 2017 17:26 (+01:00 GMT)
Environmentalists sue EPA for halting methane rule

Washington, 5 June (Argus) — Environmental groups today filed a lawsuit targeting the US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) recent decision to delay enforcement of regulations requiring the oil and gas sector to limit methane leaks.

The Clean Air Council, the Sierra Club, Earthworks and other environmental groups filing the lawsuit arguing that President Donald Trump's administration has not met the narrow criteria that would justify such a delay. EPA today suspended for three months a 3 June deadline for oil and gas companies to search for methane leaks as it reconsiders the regulations.

"The rule of law still matters, and here EPA did not follow the law," Earthworks attorney Darin Schroeder said.

EPA declined to comment on the lawsuit.

Former president Barack Obama's administration issued the regulations last year as part of a plan for the oil and gas sector to cut emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, by at least 40pc from 2012 levels by 2025. The regulations, which affect new and modified facilities, require oil and gas companies to search for leaks and install low-emission equipment.

EPA last week issued a notice suspending the leak detection program and other parts of the regulations through 31 August. It justified the delay in part because the last administration, when it finalized the rule, removed a proposed exclusion for low-producing wells. EPA's notice argues was impracticable for the public to comment on this change.

The environmentalists, which filed their lawsuit in the DC Circuit Court of Appeals, say EPA can only reconsider and delay its regulations if it was "impracticable" for the public to raise objections during the comment period. Another factor required to justify a delay would be if those objections were of "central relevance" to the regulation.

EPA has failed to meet those requirements, the lawsuit says. The environmentalists say the proposed exemption for low-producing wells was thoroughly debated during the comment period and it had no relevance to the leak detection requirements for other high-production facilities.

"The bases that EPA has cited for granting ‘reconsideration' – and then issuing the stay – do not come close to meeting these two threshold requirements," the lawsuit says.

EPA's methane regulations were projected to cost $530mn/yr by 2025 and were a key part of Obama's plans to achieve greenhouse gas reduction goals laid out in the Paris climate agreement between 195 countries. Trump last week announced the US would withdraw from the accord and seek to negotiate a "better" deal.