Will Trump’s methane rule rollback survive in court?

August 29, 2020

EPA’s rationale for its decision to stop directly regulating potent heat-trapping emissions from the oil and gas sector may contain fatal flaws that could cause the agency’s new standards to stumble in court, legal experts say according to an August 17, 2020 EnergyWire report.

The Trump administration last week finalized a pair of regulations aimed at rolling back the Obama administration’s 2016 New Source Performance Standards controlling methane emissions from new and modified sources in the oil and gas industry.

Legal experts agree the agency’s cost-benefit analysis justifying the rule change will be a likely target of litigation, particularly in light of a recent district court ruling striking down the Trump administration’s approach to the social cost of methane, which puts a dollar figure on the harm caused by emissions of the greenhouse gas.

“The cost-benefit analysis, to me, is a central liability for this rule,” said David Hayes, a former Interior Department official who now leads New York University’s State Energy & Environmental Impact Center. “It’s the reason why it cannot survive.”

Under its rule, the Trump administration jettisoned the requirement to regulate emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and instead only required operators to curb precursors to smog called volatile organic compounds (VOCs) for the production and processing segments of the industry.

In a separate technical rule, EPA also decreased the frequency with which companies need to check for and repair methane leaks. Low-production wells are exempt from compliance.

EPA and supporters of the rollbacks have framed the decision as a means to eliminate “redundant” regulations. But to make that case, EPA first has to limit how broadly regulations are allowed to apply to the industry by eliminating emissions requirements for the transmission and storage segments of the industry.

That laid the groundwork for eliminating its requirement under the Clean Air Act to extend methane regulation to existing sources, which produce the vast majority of sector emissions.

Those changes, and the reasoning behind them, are ripe for challenge, legal experts said.

What this means to you
EPA and supporters of the rollbacks have framed the decision as a means to eliminate “redundant” regulations. But to make that case, EPA first has to limit how broadly regulations are allowed to apply to the industry by eliminating emissions requirements for the transmission and storage segments of the industry. Those changes, and the reasoning behind them, are ripe for challenge, legal experts said.

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