Attorney General Tong Urges Congress to Void Trump-Era Rule Eliminating Key Limits on Dangerous Pollutants

Attorney General William Tong joined a coalition of 21 attorneys general and the cities of Denver and Chicago on Tuesday in urging Congress to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to invalidate a Trump Environmental Protection Agency regulation that eliminates key limits on pollutants from oil and gas facilities that contribute to climate change and smog. 

The regulation – known as the methane “Rescission Rule” – replaced a prior regulation that ensured new oil and natural gas facilities would apply common sense, cost-effective measures to control emissions of methane, an extremely potent greenhouse gas, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), a component of smog. Oil and natural gas facilities are currently the single largest industrial source of methane emissions, and contribute to smog pollution that triggers asthma attacks, and can cause premature death.

“Methane and smog-forming pollutants pose serious risks to public health and our climate, and we must restore common sense, cost-effective emissions controls. Congress should act immediately under the Congressional Review Act to protect clean air and our health,” Attorney General Tong said.

The Rescission Rule removed methane emission standards for new (including modified and reconstructed) oil and gas facilities that EPA had issued four years earlier pursuant to the Clean Air Act. The 2016 rule reduced methane and smog-forming VOC pollution through common sense, cost-effective approaches such as more efficient technology and leak detection and repair. Importantly, the rule required the methane emission standards apply to similar equipment used in the production, processing, and transmission and storage segments of new oil and gas facilities. The coalition wrote that “the 2016 rule helped to prevent and mitigate significant harms to public health and the environment while increasing the efficiency of natural gas operations.”

According to EPA, the 2016 rule was expected to reduce emissions of methane by 510,000 tons, emissions of VOCs by 210,000 tons, and emissions of hazardous air pollutants by 3,900 in 2025 alone.

Taking into account the health benefits of the 2016 rule and the increased revenues that operators would realize from recovering natural gas that would otherwise be released, EPA determined that the rule would result in a net benefit of $170 million in 2025.

However, in September 2020, the former administration’s EPA adopted the Rescission Rule, repealing the requirements that directly limited methane emissions at new oil and gas facilities.

The rule also eliminated pollution control on methane and VOCs emitted by facilities engaged in the transmission and storage of natural gas, despite that these segments use some of the same equipment as – and emit methane and VOCs the same as – production and processing facilities. In fact, in adopting the Rescission Rule, EPA acknowledged that it would increase pollution emissions from new oil and gas facilities, including 448,000 more tons of methane, 12,000 more tons of VOCs, and 400 more tons of hazardous air pollutants by 2030. 

The coalition urges the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to “promptly” pass CRA resolutions disapproving the Rescission Rule. As the coalition’s letter states, disapproving the Rule (with President Biden’s expected signature) would restore the provisions in the 2016 rule that directly regulated methane and VOCs from new sources in the transmission and storage sector – and thus, “result in substantial public health, environmental, and economic benefits.” Disapproving the Rescission Rule will also facilitate state efforts to limit methane emissions from existing facilities.  

Joining Attorney General Tong in Tuesday’s letter are the attorneys general of New York, California, Colorado, Delaware, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington,  and the District of Columbia, and the Chief Legal Officers of the cities of Chicago and Denver.

Assistant Attorney General Jill Lacedonia, and Matthew Levine, Deputy Associate Attorney General/Chief of the Environment Section are assisting the Attorney General in this matter.