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Six Groups Sue EPA Over Stay of Oil, Natural Gas Methane Rules

A coalition of six conservation groups filed a lawsuit against U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt, after he ordered a 90-day halt over parts of proposed rules governing new sources of methane emissions from the oil and natural gas industry.

On Monday, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), the Clean Air Council, Earthworks, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Environmental Integrity Project and the Sierra Club filed a petition for review in U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The case is Clean Air Council et al v. Pruitt et al, No. 17-1145.

Last week, EPA said it was issuing a hold over the fugitive emissions, pneumatic pumps and professional engineer certification requirements outlined in updates to the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS), which the agency first unveiled in May 2016 during the Obama administration. The rules are designed to reduce methane, volatile organic compounds (VOC) and toxic air pollutants.

The conservation groups want the court to block the stay, arguing that Pruitt violated the law by issuing it without any advance public notice or providing any opportunity for public comment. The groups said leak detection and repair requirements were to take effect on Saturday (June 10), but EPA's notice of the stay was only published in the Federal Register on Monday.

"In its haste to do favors for its polluter cronies, the Trump EPA has broken the law," said NRDC senior attorney Meleah Geertsma. "The Trump administration does not have unlimited power to put people's health in jeopardy with unchecked, unilateral executive action like this.

"Stopping methane leaks is a no-brainer -- avoiding wasted gas, creating jobs, fighting climate change and cutting cancer-causing pollution all at once. We will not stand for this blatant polluter giveaway."

Last April, EPA said it would reconsider the rules in order to comply with an executive order (EO) signed by President Trump on March 28. The EO included a directive for EPA to immediately review regulations on energy sources, and then to either suspend, revise or rescind them.

In mid-May, thesame appellate court granted the Trump administration's request to delay a series of lawsuits over proposed rules to give EPA more time to review them. The court agreed to hold several consolidated lawsuits in abeyance pending further review of the lead case, American Petroleum Institute et al v. EPA et al, No. 13-1108.

EPA built NSPS upon VOC emission reduction requirements for new oil and gas wells that the agency first unveiled in April 2012. Those requirements called for a two-phase process to reduce VOCs: requiring flaring followed by "green completions," a term that means deploying equipment to capture and sell natural gas emissions that are otherwise lost.

EPA previously said it expected the NSPS to reduce 510,000 short tons of methane in 2025, which is the equivalent of reducing 11 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. The rules were also expected to reduce other pollutants, including 210,000 tons of VOCs and 3,900 tons of air toxics, by 2025.

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