EPA's Stay of Methane Rule Vacated

By: Michael K. Reer

On July 3, 2017, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit vacated the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s stay of the final rulemaking “Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources.” The rulemaking amended the new source performance standards under the Clean Air Act for the oil and natural gas source category, most significantly for greenhouse gases and volatile organic compounds. Although the final rule took effect on August 2, 2016, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt granted a petition seeking reconsideration of the rule on April 18, 2017 and issued a 90-day stay of the rule. By way of background, the Clean Air Act requires EPA to grant a petition for reconsideration, even after the effective date of the rule, if a petitioner makes an objection to the rule that was impracticable to raise within the comment period and that is of central relevance to the outcome of the rule. If EPA is required to grant the petition for reconsideration, the Clean Air Act allows a 90-day stay of the rule.

In granting several petitions for reconsideration, EPA stated that some aspects of the final rule were not logical outgrowths of the proposed rule. EPA reasoned that because the final rule was not a logical outgrowth of the proposed rule, petitioners did not have a fair opportunity to comment on the regulations that would become final. The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected EPA’s logical outgrowth argument, noting that in the preamble to the proposed rule, EPA requested comment on several regulatory concepts that were included in the final rule as regulations. In short, the Court of Appeals reasoned that even though parts of the final regulations were expressed as regulatory concepts in the proposed rulemaking – and not in terms of draft regulations – the final rule did not fail the logical outgrowth test.  

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

EPA Withdraws ICR for Oil and Gas Operators

On March 2, 2017, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued notice that the agency is withdrawing its requests that owners and operators in the oil and natural gas industry provide information on equipment and emissions at existing oil and natural gas facilities. Upon publication in the Federal Register, the notice will formally withdraw the Information Collection Request issued by EPA in 2016 to more than 15,000 owners and operators in the oil and natural gas industry.

The ICR was comprised of two parts, an “operator survey” that requested basic information on the numbers and types of equipment at onshore oil and gas production facilities and a “facility survey” that requested detailed information on sources of methane emissions and emissions control devices or practices.

EPA states in the notice that the “withdrawal is occurring because EPA would like to assess the need for the information that the agency was collecting through these requests, and reduce burdens on businesses while the Agency assesses such need. This also comes after the Agency received a letter on March 1, 2017 from nine state Attorneys General and the Governors of Mississippi and Kentucky, expressing concern with the burdens on businesses imposed by the pending requests.”
Friday, March 03, 2017

USEPA Reaches $8.2 Million Settlement With ND Operator

On December 1, 2016, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Justice announced a settlement with a North Dakota operator to resolve alleged violations of the Clean Air Act. The settlement resolves USEPA’s allegations that the operator failed to adequately design, operate, and maintain vapor control systems on its storage tanks at approximately 170 oil and natural gas well pads in North Dakota. USEPA states in its announcement that inadequately designed, operated, or maintained vapor control systems can lead to uncontrolled emissions of volatile organic compounds, which contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and hazardous air pollutants.

As part of the settlement, the operator agreed to implement system upgrades, monitoring, and inspections at an estimated cost of $4.1 million. The settlement also requires the operator to use advanced technology such as infrared cameras and electronic pressure monitors to detect and fix emissions sources. Additionally, the operator is required to spend at least $2 million to fund environmental mitigation projects and pay a $2.1 million civil penalty. The settlement is part of USEPA’s larger national enforcement initiative to reduce public health and environmental impacts from energy extraction activities.

Friday, December 02, 2016

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