Advocates for Methane Rule Dominate EPA Hearing

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt (Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Public interest groups and local stakeholders at a public hearing Monday urged the Environmental Protection Agency to continue to enforce methane regulations.

The hearing at the EPA’s headquarters in Washington related the agency’s recent moves to delay the Obama administration’s methane rules for two years. Conservationists, health experts and community members focused on the effects of methane emissions and climate change on their lives.

In a 2-1 decision, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled last week that the EPA could not postpone implementing the methane rule for three months, denying the agency’s request. But Justice Department lawyers representing the EPA asked to delay enforcement while the agency considers an appeal.

The EPA continues to identify methane as a greenhouse gas. The Obama administration last year added regulations for methane gas that escapes through oil and gas wells. But the EPA under President Donald Trump has said staying enforcement on those rules for the next two years would save businesses $235 million during that time period.

The EPA was not immediately available for comment on the regulation and its enforcement.

At least two-thirds of more than 150 speakers registered to comment on Monday were tied to an environmental group, health association or person who opposed the rule’s reconsideration and delay.

“The Trump administration’s move to roll back protections for our clean air is an attack on families across the country, but mostly on frontier communities who suffer the most from air pollution and climate change,” Hilda Nucete, a program director at Conservation Colorado, said in her testimony, noting that she was a victim of asthma caused by air pollution.

The lobbying group American Petroleum Institute was among the minority testifying in support of reconsidering the methane regulations, based on the industry’s independent efforts to curb methane emissions and the costs of compliance.

“As demonstrated through previous regulatory efforts, EPA’s focus must be on cost-effective regulations that target emissions of volatile organic compounds, providing the co-benefit of methane emission reductions,” said Howard Feldman, senior director of regulatory and scientific affairs at API.

Feldman told the EPA it was already in companies’ best interests to curb emissions of leaked methane since they were a waste of resources.

But other groups said delaying the methane rules posed an economic risk for industry.

“The stay will punish early adopters and reward laggards. It will delay investments in crucial technologies that limit emissions, measure and repair leakage and make beneficial use of methane that would otherwise be wasted,” Alyssa Tsuchiya, legislative associate with the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in her testimony.

The Trump administration proposed staying the methane requirements after Senate Republicans failed to reverse the rule using the Congressional Review Act.

The EPA received petitions to reconsider some aspects of the methane rule, in particular the requirements for monitoring and repairing methane leaks at well sites, the engineer certification standards for vent systems and the pneumatic pump standards.