AG Shapiro sues EPA for ignoring responsibility under Clean Air Act to control methane pollution

HARRISBURG — Attorney General Josh Shapiro today filed a lawsuit against the Trump Administration for ignoring its legal duty to control emissions of methane – an extremely potent greenhouse gas – from existing oil and gas operations.

Specifically, the suit charges that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt has violated the federal Clean Air Act by unreasonably delaying its mandatory obligation under the Act to control methane emissions from these operations. The lawsuit was filed by a coalition of 15 Attorneys General and the City of Chicago.

“Methane is one of the most dangerous greenhouse gases. By filing this lawsuit, I am ensuring the EPA does its job, as mandated by Congress and the Clean Air Act, to appropriately limit this major contributor to climate change,” Attorney General Josh Shapiro said. “EPA officials don’t have to like the law, but they cannot ignore their legal obligations and compromise the health and safety of Pennsylvanians.”

Methane is an extremely potent greenhouse gas, warming the climate about 80-times more than carbon dioxide over a 20-year timeframe. Oil and gas operations – production, processing, transmission, and distribution – 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 only electric power plants.

Pennsylvania is the second largest natural gas production state in the country, leading to a high level of methane emissions. Analysts estimate 520,000 tons of methane are emitted in the Commonwealth each year, primarily from outdated and malfunctioning equipment.

Methane poses a significant amount of health risks for Pennsylvanians, including asthma and heart and lung disease. The childhood asthma rate in Philadelphia is more than twice as high as the national average.

Minority and low-income communities are particularly affected by methane pollution. In Pennsylvania, more than 40 percent of residents living in counties with oil refineries are African-American, while African-Americans make up less than 12 percent of the Commonwealth’s total population.

In June 2017, a coalition of 15 Attorneys General pledged to sue if, within 180 days, EPA failed to issue methane standards for existing sources in the oil and gas industry. More than 180 days have passed and the Trump EPA has failed to take action on issuing the required standards.

In today’s lawsuit, the coalition cites clear statutory language, Congressional intent, established Agency practice, and the large contribution that existing sources make to methane emissions as support for their contention that EPA is obligated to act “without delay” to finalize controls on methane emissions from existing oil and natural gas sources.

The EPA has known since at least 2009 that methane endangers public health and welfare, and has long had ample data on cost-effective measure for controlling methane emissions from oil and natural gas sources, for example, through the Natural Gas STAR Program, which started in 1993. The coalition argues that the EPA’s failure to establish guidelines for controlling methane emissions from existing sources in the oil and gas industry is an “unreasonable delay” in performing a mandatory duty under the Clean Air Act. The suit asks the court to direct EPA to propose and adopt the methane regulations required by the Act for oil and gas operations, following an expeditious deadline established by the court.

“The EPA is obligated to comply with the law and control methane emissions,” Attorney General Shapiro said. “There is no excuse for their delayed action. Research has proven we can control emissions from existing sources while also saving Pennsylvania consumers money.”

The suit, available here, was filed this morning in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. In addition to Pennsylvania Attorney General Shapiro, it was filed by the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City of Chicago.

Source: Office of Attorney General