In the latest high-profile legal challenge to President Obama’s efforts to combat climate change, a coalition of 14 states and state agencies has filed a legal challenge to the final Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) methane rule seeking to curb methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas wells. The petition for review, filed in the District of Columbia Circuit Court of Appeals on August 2, was brought by West Virginia, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Wisconsin, along with the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet and the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality. A coalition of 19 independent oil and gas trade groups also filed a challenge to the methane rule on August 2. The rule had already been challenged in federal court by North Dakota and Texas. In response, this week nine states and six environmental advocacy groups filed motions to intervene in the lawsuits in support of the new emissions standards.
The states challenging the methane rule argue that the final rule is “in excess of the agency’s statutory authority and otherwise is arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion and not in accordance with law.” The new methane rule, part of the Obama administration’s strategy to reduce methane emissions, imposes new standards and requirements for new and modified sources in the oil and gas sector. You can read our client alert on the new rules here. When it finalized the methane rule, EPA also took the first formal step toward regulating emissions of methane from existing sources by issuing a draft information collection request that would require oil and gas companies to provide extensive information on methane emissions from numerous sources.
Methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is also the main component of natural gas. The new rules have drawn heavy criticism from an industry already beleaguered by a host of new environmental regulations and a steep downturn in oil and gas prices. The oil and gas industry maintains that it has already reduced methane emissions through engineering controls, making the final rules unnecessarily costly and repetitive. EPA estimates that the new rules will add an additional $530 million per year in compliance costs by 2025. Thus, industry views the final rules as merely adding additional regulatory requirements and compliance costs to achieve what will likely be a limited practical effect on methane emissions, and at a time when the oil and gas industry is struggling with an historic downturn in the oil and gas market.
The methane rules are the latest element of President Obama’s climate change agenda to be mired in legal challenges as his final term nears its end. As noted in our client alert, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a stay in February preventing enforcement of Obama’s Clean Power Plan, which seeks to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants. That challenge, brought by 29 states and the energy industry, is currently before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit with a ruling expected in late this year at the earliest.