Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal has announced that New Jersey is joining a coalition of states and other jurisdictions in taking legal action to block new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rollbacks on protections from methane and other hazardous emissions in the oil and gas industry.
If left to stand, the new rules would gut protections adopted by the EPA in 2016 to limit harmful emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), and other hazardous pollutants from new, reconstructed, and modified facilities in the oil and natural gas industry.
The EPA’s rollbacks, and the resulting increase in methane and other air pollutant emissions, will threaten public health and accelerate the impact of climate change.
“EPA’s latest rollbacks will allow more pollution with less accountability,” Attorney General Grewal said. “This is just the latest example of EPA’s reckless race to deregulate, without regard for the science or the consequences. EPA is putting our environment and the health of our residents at risk.”
Methane releases resulting from oil and gas production are a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. By the EPA’s own estimates, the rollback of the existing standards will increase methane emissions alone by over 850,000 tons between 2021 and 2030, while at the same time significantly increasing other harmful emissions.
The Attorney General's office reports that 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. Only electric power plants generate more greenhouse gas emissions.
The Environmental Defense Fund estimates that roughly $1.5 billion worth of natural gas – enough to heat more than 5 million homes – leaks or is intentionally released from the oil and gas supply chain each year.
During the Obama presidency, in an effort to address the problem, EPA finalized the first-ever standards limiting methane emission from new, reconstructed, and modified sources in the oil and natural gas sector. In doing so, EPA estimated that the new standards would prevent 510,000 tons of methane emissions.
On August 13, the EPA announced a set of new rules gutting the standards the agency had set in 2016.
The new 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 sectors of the oil and natural gas industry entirely from regulation.
Together, these changes are expected to increase emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds, and other hazardous air pollutants by over 850,000, 140,000, and 5,000 tons respectively by 2030.
Filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, the lawsuit by California, New Jersey, and a coalition of other states and jurisdictions seeks to have the new EPA rules set aside.
The challengers maintain that an exponential increase in methane, VOCs, and other hazardous emissions will not only exacerbate the impacts of climate change but endanger vulnerable populations including children and older adults, as well as persons suffering from chronic lung disease and asthma.
The Attorney General's office states that the rollback is particularly troubling in light of recent media reports that the summer of 2020 has been the second hottest summer on record in New Jersey, and in view of the disproportionate impact climate change has on vulnerable populations.
The challengers argue that EPA’s rollback violates the federal Clean Air Act and Administrative Procedure Act.
Among other things, they contend that the rollback is illegal because it arbitrarily eliminates pollution controls from the transmission and storage segment of the oil and natural gas sector while entirely abandoning the regulation of methane emissions without any justification.
In addition to New Jersey and lead state California, the following are also participating in the lawsuit: Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, the District of Columbia, Denver, and Chicago.