Nessel joins multistate challenge to rollback of regulations that limit methane emissions

Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, joining a coalition of states and municipalities, recently challenged a set of rules that gut standards which limit emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds and other hazardous pollutants from new, reconstructed and modified facilities in the oil and natural gas industry.

Methane is a super-pollutant up to 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide in its ability to trap heat over a 20-year timeframe. According to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own estimates, the rollback of these standards will increase emissions of methane by 850,000 tons between 2021 and 2030 – which is equivalent to 19 million metric tons of CO2 – accelerating the impacts of climate change and threatening public health, particularly to children, older adults and those suffering from chronic lung disease and asthma. 

“While Michigan may not have as many oil and gas sources, the entire country is affected by this arbitrary and capricious decision by the Trump administration’s EPA,” Nessel said. “This new rule rolls back significant protections and will result in an increased amount of emissions harmful to our environment. My colleagues and I will not sit back and allow this administration to give the oil and gas industry a pass to pollute our air.”

Oil and natural gas operations – production, processing, transmission and storage – 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 electric power plants. 

Based on the EPA’s own 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. In an effort to address these emissions, the EPA finalized the first-ever standards limiting methane emission from new, reconstructed and modified sources in the oil and natural gas sector in 2016. The EPA estimated that the standards would prevent 510,000 tons of methane emissions and result in a net benefit of $170 million in 2025.

However, on Aug. 13, 2020, the EPA announced a set of rules gutting the 2016 standards. The rules include technical amendments rolling back leak detection and monitoring requirements, as well as policy amendments rescinding requirements to regulate methane and removing the transmission and storage category entirely from regulation. Together, these changes are expected to increase emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, and  other hazardous air pollutants by 850,000, 140,000, and 5,000 tons respectively by 2030.   

In the petitions for review filed in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals the coalition intends to argue that the EPA’s rollback of the standards violate the Clean Air Act because it arbitrarily eliminates pollution controls from the transmission and storage segment of the oil and natural gas sector and entirely abandons the regulation of methane without any justification. 

Nessel joins the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as CARB, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, the City and County of Denver, and the City of Chicago in filing the lawsuit.

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