U.S. oil and gas producers were cheering earlier this week after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency proposed a two-year delay on an Obama-era methane regulation that previously survived a Senate challenge under the Congressional Review Act.
To adopt the stay, the EPA will have to post it in the U.S. Federal Register, then solicit and review stakeholder comment. But if the decision holds, “oil and gas drillers will be able to avoid complying with several aspects of the regulation, which requires them to significantly increase their monitoring of leaking methane, a potent greenhouse gas,” reports Bloomberg BNA. “The agency wants to pause the rule for at least two years while it weighs whether to repeal it altogether.”
In a separate move, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management announced it would delay compliance deadlines for methane emissions from wells on federal lands.
A coalition of environmental groups had already taken EPA to court for a previous, 90-day delay in implementing the rule. Earthjustice attorney Joel Minor said he hoped a judge would rule on that motion soon.
“This is an emergency summer ozone season upon us,” he said. “This summer is really a key time to prevent air pollution that causes people to have heart attacks and asthma. We hope that court will rule very promptly so [the methane regulation] can go fully into effect.”
Peter Zalzal, lead attorney for the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, pointed to EPA’s own public notice stating that “the environmental health or safety risk addressed by this action may have a disproportionate effect on children.” The agency claimed that outcome would be acceptable “because the length of the proposed stay is limited.”
“It’s unfortunate that we’re in the position now where the federal government is not enforcing its basic statutory requirements,” Zalzal told the Washington Post.
Sarah Uhl, program director with the Clean Air Task Force, called the rollback of the BLM role “a blatantly unlawful attempt to stay a rule that’s already in effect, in order to benefit the oil and gas industry at the expense of public health.”
Fossil lobbyists said the decision gave them a needed reprieve. “Both rules vastly exceeded federal authority,” said Kathleen Sgamma, president of Western Energy Alliance. “Even though the compliance dates are postponed, industry will continue to increase methane capture rates as it has for the past three decades.