Two-week breather for EPA on methane rule compliance

D.C. court gives agency time to mull legal options

John R. Moses
  • The court ruled July 3 that EPA's director exceeded his authority in staying the methane rule.
  • The new ruling gives the EPA two weeks to seek a hearing with the full court or pursue "other relief."
  • An industry association spokesman says implementing the rule will shut down some wells.

FARMINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency Thursday won a two-week reprieve from a three-judge federal court panel on implementing methane release rules drafted under the Obama Administration and stayed by the Trump Administration.

The ruling gives the EPA time to consider seeking a rehearing before the full court or “pursue other relief.”

Air Quality

“We are continuing to assess our options,” EPA spokesperson Amy Graham said today.
The Washington, D.C., appellate court’s single-paragraph ruling Thursday stayed the court’s mandate for 14 days to give the EPA time to mull its legal options.
"To stay issuance of the mandate for longer would hand the agency, in all practical effect, the very delay in implementation this panel determined to be 'arbitrary, capricious [and] ... in excess of [EPA's] statutory ... authority,'” the United States Court of Appeals panel wrote Thursday.

The same court issued a 31-page ruling against the EPA’s methane rule delay on July 3. That ruling, with one of three judges dissenting, told EPA Administrator E. Scott Pruitt he exceeded his authority when he in April delayed the deadline for oil and gas companies to follow the new rule by 90 days.

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Industry groups, including the American Petroleum Institute and the Texas Oil and Gas Association, had asked Pruitt to stay the requirement, which had been set to take effect in June. They cited, among other things, the high cost of retrofitting low-producing wells with equipment needed to meet strict new standards.

The EPA in April announced it would reconsider the measure and instituted the 90-day stay, then several environmental groups then sued the EPA. In June, the EPA extended the delay for two years.

“Fourteen days is better than 52 days,” said Camilla Feibelman of the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter, which is a party to the lawsuit.

Feibelman said every one of the EPA’s moves, including announcing stays so close to the rule’s implementation date, have been delaying tactics.

After reviewing Thursday’s ruling, New Mexico Oil & Gas Association spokesman Robert McEntyre said he hopes the EPA goes back to court soon or finds another way to avoid implementing a rule he said would damage New Mexico’s economy.

“It’s really critical that the rule, as written, is not implemented,” McEntyre said today.

Ordering businesses that have marginally producing wells to spend $250,000 per well to upgrade their equipment won’t result in those wells staying active “as they simply cannot bear the weight of the cost of this regulation,” McEntyre said today.

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McEntyre said he also hopes the EPA will keep trying to change the rule through the rule-making process.

On Monday, the EPA heard testimony from many people about its 90-day delay in implementing the methane rule.

Among them was Durango, Colo., activist Emily Bowie.

"I’m commenting on behalf of the San Juan Citizens Alliance members in southwest Colorado and northwest New Mexico who live underneath the Four Corners methane hot spot, the highest concentration of methane pollution in the United States,” she said in testimony forwarded to The Daily Times by the Sierra Club’s Rio Grande Chapter. “The hot spot originates from waste methane at natural gas development facilities and impacts the health and well-being of our community."

Among other New Mexico residents testifying was outspoken rancher Don Schreiber of Devil's Spring Ranch in Gobernator.

Schreiber said, "When I realized that Secretary Pruitt knew that children's health would be harmed before he stayed methane regulations, I thought, 'If someone came on to this ranch to harm my grandchildren, it would be over my dead body.' That's when I knew I had to come to D.C. and speak out."