Colorado joins multistate lawsuit challenging federal rollback of regulations that limit methane emissions
Sept. 14, 2020 (DENVER, Colo.) – Attorney General Phil Weiser and the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment today joined a coalition of states and municipalities in a lawsuit challenging the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) final rule rescinding standards that limit emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds (VOC), 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. Oil and natural gas operations 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. The oil and gas industry is also the largest contributor of VOC and methane in Colorado.
To address these emissions, the EPA finalized the first ever standards limiting methane emissions from the oil and natural gas sector in 2016 with the support of several major oil and gas companies. 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.
The EPA’s 2016 action relied upon Colorado’s groundbreaking 2014 rules addressing methane and VOC emissions from the oil and gas sector, and as such, Attorney General Weiser said that the State of Colorado has a strong interest in regulating these emissions on a national level.
“In Colorado, we are proud of our collaborative efforts between state government, the oil and gas industry, and environmental groups to establish cutting-edge, fair, and effective regulations to reduce harmful methane emissions. We are joining this lawsuit because the EPA’s final rule reversing the federal methane emissions standards will accelerate the impacts of climate change and threaten public health,” said Weiser. “Methane emissions don’t stop at state lines and Coloradans will be exposed to harm from the emissions of surrounding states if we don’t have the stronger federal standards in place.”
“We strongly support the Attorney General’s decision to join this important legal challenge,” said John Putnam, director of environmental programs at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “We will stay the course with minimizing emissions in Colorado. However, the EPA’s rollback of these reasonable, scientifically supported regulations will increase emissions of methane, volatile organic compounds and other pollutants in the states and Native American nations upwind of and in Colorado. This puts the health of Coloradans at risk and exacerbates the ongoing climate crisis.”
The EPA’s new rule includes 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. According to the EPA’s own estimates, these changes will increase emissions of methane by 850,000 tons between 2021 and 2030 – or 19,000,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent.
In the lawsuit, Colorado and CDPHE will argue that the policy amendments violate the federal Clean Air Act because they arbitrarily eliminate pollution controls from the transmission and storage segment of the oil and natural gas sector and entirely abandon the regulation of methane without any justification.
The coalition filing the lawsuit includes the attorneys general of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and the District of Columbia, as well as the City of Chicago, the City and County of Denver, the California Air Resources Board, and CDPHE.