EDF, Partners File Emergency Legal Action to Block EPA’s Suspension of Vital Oil and Gas Air Pollution Control Measures for Thousands of Wells

Suspended Clean Air Standards Designed to Reduce Health-Harming Benzene, Volatile Organic Compounds, Methane, Other Dangerous Pollution from Oil and Gas Sources

June 5, 2017
Sharyn Stein, 202-572-3396, sstein@edf.org

(Washington, D.C. – June 5, 2017) Environmental Defense Fund and other health and environmental groups have filed a lawsuit in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit to block EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt from stripping away vital air pollution safeguards for thousands of industrial sources in the oil and gas sector – which would create an immediate and irreversible public health and environmental threat for communities and families across our nation.

The standards would have required oil and gas owners and operators to complete surveys and repairs of their methane leaks by June 3, after providing a year of advance planning specifically requested by the oil and gas industry. Administrator Pruitt suspended these protections just days before they were set to begin delivering critical pollution reductions to communities across the country.   

Pruitt’s action creates a loophole in compliance obligations for thousands of wells across the country during the peak of smog season — allowing smog-forming volatile organic compounds, cancer-causing benzene and dangerous methane pollution to be emitted in extensive quantities with imminent and irreversible harms to public health and the environment.

“Administrator Pruitt’s decision to suspend commonsense standards to find and fix leaks is both unlawful and dangerous,” said Peter Zalzal, Lead Attorney for Environmental Defense Fund. “We are entering the height of summertime smog season, and every day his suspension remains in effect, emissions from thousands of wells across the country go unaddressed, harming American communities and families.”

Administrator Pruitt suspended these critical clean air protections without any public input or any analysis of the dangerous impacts its suspension would have on human health and the environment. EPA is also poised to extend the stay for an indeterminate period and has prepared an action to extend these clean air loopholes that is pending White House review now.

The emergency lawsuit was filed this morning, right after the unlawful suspension was published in the Federal Register. The lawsuit urges the court to swiftly block Administrator Pruitt’s action in light of its imminent harms to public health and the environment.

According to the brief filed by the health and environmental organizations today:

“These are Administrator Pruitt’s first steps towards suspending, revising, or rescinding the entire Rule … The Administrator has no authority to issue the stay and cause this irreparable harm. Promulgated rules remain in effect unless and until they are validly changed through the Clean Air Act’s enhanced rulemaking procedures … Those procedures do not allow EPA to stay or suspend an existing rule during a rulemaking to modify or repeal it … The action was patently unlawful, the irreparable harm to the public is serious, and the burden on industry is minimal.” (Brief, pages 4, 5, 7)

The lawsuit was filed by the Environmental Defense Fund as well as the Clean Air Council, the Clean Air Task Force, Earthworks, the Environmental Integrity Project, Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

EPA’s leak detection and repair standards are the cornerstone of a 2016 regulation designed to reduce methane and smog-forming pollution from the oil and gas industry. These measures require oil and gas companies to monitor their well sites and compressor stations at regular intervals to detect leaks of air pollutants, and to repair those leaks promptly. More than 18,000 wells and compressor stations in 22 states are subject to the requirements, including more than 11,000 in states that lack any separate state leak detection programs.

EDF has mapped wells that have been drilled or completed since September of 2015 and so would be covered by these vital clean air standards – see the searchable, interactive database here to find the wells in your community for which EPA Administrator  Scott Pruitt has stripped away core clean air protections.

Two weeks ago, more than 60 national, regional, state, and local organizations representing a wide range of constituents sent a letter to Scott Pruitt, urging him not to suspend these critical clean air safeguards.

You can find more information – including all legal documents – on EDF’s website

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