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New York AG Leads Effort to Make EPA Do Its Job

J. Mijin Cha

New York Attorney General Eric Scheiderman is leading a seven state coalition to bring suit against the EPA for failing to address methane emissions from the oil and gas industry -- a violation of the Clean Air Act. Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont joined New York in the notice of intent to sue. EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases was recently upheld by a federal appeals court. Yet, the latest updates to air pollution emissions standards for the oil and gas industry largely ignored methane emissions. By failing to directly address methane emissions from oil and gas operations, EPA left 95 percent of these emissions uncontrolled.

Methane is actually a far more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. On a per pound basis, methane warms the climate about 25 times more than carbon dioxide. Methane release is one of the many reasons hydrofracking is bad for the climate, even though once the gas is out it burns cleaner than coal. A recent Duke University study found 17 times more methane in well water near fracking sites. In 2009, the EPA determined that methane and other greenhouse gasses are a danger to public health and welfare. By failing to regulate methane, the proposed suit claims that the EPA is in violation of the Clean Air Act’s requirement that emission controls must be set for industries that cause or significantly contribute to air pollution that endangers public health and welfare.

According to EPA’s own determination, oil and natural gas production and transmission emits over 15 million metric tons of methane annually- the same as 64 million cars. The oil and gas industry is the single largest source of man-made methane emissions and the second largest industrial source of greenhouse gas emissions. By not regulating this source, the EPA ignores a huge cause of both air pollution and climate change.

Schneiderman is also leading a coalition of state to pressure the EPA to regulate the emissions from fossil fuel powered electricity generating plants, as it is legally charged to do. He also successfully defended New York’s participation in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative against a lawsuit brought by the Koch Brothers-funded Americans for Prosperity.

Combined with his work to hold banks accountable, Schneiderman is quickly becoming a hero of the progressive movement. Let’s hope more Attorneys General join him.