The CAA passed in 1970 with the purpose of making air breathable again. Today, we’ve made a lot of progress, but we still have a long way to go. Methane severely affects the health of community members surrounding oil and gas extraction sites. The leaking emissions smell terrible and have severe health consequences, especially in children. Children in oil and gas extraction areas suffer from high rates of asthma and other chronic problems. Communities deserve the protections that the CAA intended to give when it was enacted.
All across the country, methane seeps out of oil and gas industry’s control, polluting the air, and contributing to climate change. In June 2016, the Obama Administration took action when his Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) created a methane rule that would force oil and gas companies to act more responsibly with their gas leaking into the atmosphere. The rule has come under attack from industry and the new Administration.
Just as the first set of leak detection and repair (LDAR) requirements were about to come due, Administrator Scott Pruitt stayed the EPA methane rule for 90 days. The court ruled against him. On July 3, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in favor of the environment over industry. The Court ruled EPA misapplied the Clean Air Act (CAA) provision EPA used to stay the rule. EPA’s stay relied on an industry petition filed just days after the rule became final, which listed information the agency had already considered. For this CAA stay, EPA needs new information to review. And it’s not new information if it was already available to them at the time of the rulemaking.
This decision is a win both for the environment and the rule of law. This Administration cannot run roughshod over our bedrock environmental protections. And when they try, we will hold them accountable.
After the court ruling, the EPA filed to have the stay continue while the agency contemplated an appeal. The court allowed the agency two weeks before they must begin enforcing the rule. Any longer and the EPA would essentially have the full 90 day stay that the court had just ruled against. We await whether EPA will appeal. Meanwhile, on July 28, the rule will go back into effect. Environmental groups stand ready to continue the fight for communities affected by methane pollution.
The next step in EPA’s plan to dismantle their own methane pollution rule is a new stay for two years while they reevaluate the policies and implications. The comment period is going on now for this stay. EPA held a hearing at their Washington, D.C. headquarters on July 10 to receive public comment, which was overwhelmingly in favor of implementing the rule now, to the tune of 98% of commenters in support.
Methane and the chemicals that surface with it contribute to health-harming air pollution and climate change. When methane is released ‘hitchhikers,’ other pollutants, are released from deep underground that can include known carcinogens like benzene. In addition, as a climate pollutant, methane itself is 86 times worse for climate than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. We must do everything we can to limit the amount of methane and hitchhiker pollutants leaking into the atmosphere.
In summation, by the end of July, EPA will decide whether to appeal the restriction on their methane rule stay. If they appeal, the Court may pause the rule’s effect during the appeal. Alternatively,, EPA might not appeal. Then the rule becomes effective on July 28 as planned. August brings the comment deadline for EPA’s proposed two-year stay. So, regardless of whether EPA appeals the 90 day stay, we’re headed toward a 2 year stay in September.