LETTER – Federal Court: EPA Must Implement Methane Rule

Federal Court: EPA Must Implement Methane Rule

A federal court today ruled that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) must enforce the Obama Administration methane pollution rule. The order from Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit came after the judges gave the agency a two-week reprieve from its ruling earlier in July that the EPA broke the law when it tried to delay enforcement. The Sierra Club was part of the lawsuit that challenged Trump’s blocking the methane rule. Despite the reprieve, the Trump administration has not asked for the entire 11-judge court to rehear its case. Methane is a greenhouse gas produced at oil and natural gas drilling wells. As part of his executive order to repeal multiple climate regulations in March, President Trump ordered the EPA to reconsider the rule. The rules were one piece of an Obama Administration goal to cut methane emissions from the oil and gas industry by as much as 45% from their 2012 levels over the next decade. EPA estimated that these standards would avert 510,000 short tons of methane pollution in 2025.

“In a victory for clean air and the environment, the District Court in Washington D.C. ruled against the Trump Administration’s abuse of power and arrogance to block the methane rule. The Court told President Trump that he has to do his job and carry out these critical rules. Now that EPA must implement the rule we will see pollution reductions from well heads to oil and gas pipelines to transmission lines. Methane is 87 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide and causes major climate impacts. Methane leaks also impact public health, causing childhood asthma attacks, other respiratory ailments, and even premature death. For a state like New Jersey that has been devastated by climate change, reducing methane is even more important to help reduce the impact of sea level rise and flooding,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “The Sierra Club stood up against the Trump Administration in court to block this illegal and dangerous action and we won.”


The D.C. Circuit Court ruled in early July that the Trump administration overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act when it tried to unilaterally delay the rule by 90 days or more in order to appeal it. The EPA is also working through the regulatory process to delay the regulation for an additional two years. It is gathering public comment until Aug. 9 and could make the delay final after that. The Sierra Club and its allies have filed a lawsuit to block the Trump Administration from suspending standards that curb harmful air pollution from the oil and gas industry.

“The Court has told President Trump he is not above the law and cannot side with polluters to put our lungs at risk. This decision is a big win against fracking and pipelines. It is the first time we’ve won by resisting Trump’s pro-fossil fuel agenda to overturn critical environmental rules. We needed this rule it to make sure we can prevent dangerous methane leaks like the one in California. It also makes it costlier for the gas and oil industry to operate and propose pipelines in our state. It has been reported that some operations have a leakage rate as high as 9%.  Methane is leaked during drilling and transportation of natural gas and crude oil. In New Jersey, leakage often occurs from oil and gas pipelines, compressor stations, and pipelines in the street,” said Jeff Tittel. “These standards will also protect public health by curbing emissions of smog-forming volatile organic compounds and carcinogens like benzene. Natural gas pipelines are also prone to leaks and are entering through the Delaware River region, posing a serious threat to our drinking water.”


Not only does fracking for gas creates devastating health impacts to surrounding communities and the frack waste can end up in New Jersey. Natural gas power plants in New Jersey also contribute to methane pollution. Natural gas has 30 percent less carbon than coal when burned in the power plant, but has more methane released. The rule covers new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry, including well pads, pnuematic devices, compressors, and gathering lines. The rule will require regular leak detection and repair at all wells, a key means of reducing chronically leaky systems. Instead of pushing for destructive pipelines and fossil fuel plants, our natural gas plants need to be closed and changed to renewable to prevent all methane emissions.


“With a climate-change denier in the White House and all the proposals to push all types of dirty fuel infrastructure all over New Jersey, we need the methane rule now more than ever. There at least 15 pipelines that have either been approved or proposed crisscrossing our state, changing us from the crossroads of the Revolution to the crossroads of pipelines,” said Jeff Tittel. “No matter how new a pipeline is, all pipelines are prone to human error, accidents, and spills. More natural gas lines create a higher demand for fracking and dirty infrastructure. These pipelines are bringing natural gas from the Marcellus Region of Pennsylvania throughout New Jersey. We cannot allow fracking to hold hostage the drinking water for 15 million people, or fragment through forests and impact the watersheds.”


The Obama Administration’s methane rule is the first step in reducing methane emissions from oil and gas extraction, but we need to do more. We need to end fossil fuel extraction on public lands completely. We must come to realize that natural gas it is not clean and is not a bridge fuel, it’s a fossil fuel and oil drilling is a threat to our environment.


“It is important the Court stood up to the fossil fools in Washington that wanted to overturn this important rule to safeguard public health. We are glad to have this victory because it is part of many lawsuits to come against Trump’s attack on the environment. No regulation can ever make methane safe, but that’s no excuse to let dirty polluters get away with polluting our water and air. In order to reduce methane and greenhouse gas emissions we need to invest in clean energy and keep dirty fuels in the ground. These forms of energy will not damage the environment, will benefit consumers, and protect the planet for future generations,” said Jeff Tittel, Director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. “Instead of promoting renewable and alternative energy, Donald Trump cares more about siding with polluters and Big Oil than about protecting the health or environment of this country. That is why it is so important we can celebrate this victory and continue to stand up to Trump’s dangerous anti-environmental agenda.”

Toni Granato