Environmental Groups Sue EPA Over Clean-Air Delay

Jul 20, 2017

The decision by President Donald Trump to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord has pushed environmentalists to file several lawsuits against the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The Sierra Club and its allies filed a lawsuit in June against the EPA and its administrator Scott Pruitt. It seeks to block the Trump administration from suspending for 90 days the first ever national standards for the oil and gas industry aimed at curbing air pollution from methane, a greenhouse gas that is 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide while in the atmosphere.  

Andres Restrepo is a staff attorney with The Sierra Club.  "The most important aspect of this rule were requirements that oil and gas operators at new well sites and at new compressor stations perform annual inspections to detect and repair leaking components. The majority of the standards emission reduction benefits would have come from those provisions. The Obama administration finalized this rule in June of 2016, and the leak detection and repair requirement, the deadline for the initial inspection for these oil and gas companies was supposed to be as early as June, 2017."

On July 13th, the EPA won a two-week reprieve from a three-judge federal court panel on implementing methane release rules. Activists argue the Clean Air Act doesn’t permit EPA to suspend or delay finalized emission standards, so the methane safeguards should go into effect immediately. The Sierra Club lawsuit essentially demands the rule be enforced.  Businesses say they cannot bear the cost of making changes to equipment as the rule requires.

An agency spokesperson told WAMC, the EPA does not comment on pending litigation. Another lawsuit filed in July asks the federal courts to stop the EPA's delay in implementing revised smog standards, which the agency admits will prevent 230-thousand asthma attacks and 160-thousand missed school days for children, potentially saving hundreds of lives each year. According to Seth Johnson, an attorney with the environmental law group Earthjustice, although states have submitted the required data on ozone levels to the EPA, the agency wants to delay implementation for a year, which would affect "...all of Connecticut. The New York City Area. Areas in Ohio: Columbus, Cleveland. Those are places that, when the wind blows, it often blows the harmful pollutants toward upstate New York, and all the way down across the Northeast all the way to Maine."

If the standard is enforced, designated areas will be required to reduce ozone-forming pollution to bring communities into compliance.  Another greenhouse gas, Ozone takes its toll on children and seniors. Johnson adds that it can harm healthy adults too. "This is a case about delay. So, we're trying to stop a delay, so we've been trying to move pretty quickly. So at the same time we file our lawsuit, we asked the court here in Washington D.C. to give us relief as soon as possible. To strike down EPA's illegal action.  I'd anticipate wrapping up the briefing on that motion in probably mid-August, and we'd hope for a decision from the court sometime in September."