What really prompted EPA administrator Scott Pruitt’s whirlwind repeal last week to cancel the Environmental Protection Agency's effort to gather data from the oil and gas industry on methane pollution and measures to control that pollution?
Even though some companies have already sent in their data, and others are far along on collecting it, Pruitt called the data collection effort to an abrupt halt one day after getting a letter from his former litigation partners—including the attorneys general from nine states, dubbed the “fossil energy AGs” by a gas industry lobbyist in Pruitt’s now-infamous Oklahoma emails.
Is there more to this story? That's why NRDC and our partners have filed Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests with EPA to find out.
Methane is a powerful contributor to dangerous climate change, with 86 times the heat-trapping punch of carbon dioxide on a 20-year timeframe. The U.S. oil and gas sector is the single largest industrial source of methane, and the second largest industrial source of total U.S. climate pollution (after power plants).
Last year, the EPA set standards for new oil and gas methane sources and committed to set standards for the older, existing sources that are responsible for the vast bulk of methane emissions. The EPA began by methodically requesting up to date data on emissions, control practices, and technology from the nation’s oil and gas companies.
The information collection request was made, after allowing two rounds of industry comment and input, under Section 114 of the Clean Air Act and in full compliance with the Paperwork Reduction Act. The data were to inform the EPA’s development of standards for the existing sources under Section 111 of the Clean Air Act.
On March 2, Pruitt summarily withdrew the information request. His action came one day after state attorneys general and governors for 11 states sent Pruitt a letter asking for exactly this. The letter included the attorneys general of Texas, Alabama, Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Montana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and West Virginia—as noted above, the “fossil fuel AGs” as a lobbyist from Devon Energy so aptly called them in an email to Pruitt’s staff when he was a charter member of this club.
Notably, the signatories include Pruitt’s successor as Oklahoma Attorney General, even though during his confirmation hearings, Pruitt committed to an ethical limitation against dealing with Oklahoma.
Most of these attorneys general—including Pruitt’s successor—are suing the EPA to block the new source methane standards mentioned above. In fact, Pruitt brought that suit on behalf of Oklahoma wearing his old hat. The fossil energy AGs are at least candid in their goals, which include stopping the existing source methane rules, too. Their letter says: “[w]e hope the burdensome Obama climate rules never see the light of day.”
At the CPAC conference last month, Pruitt darkly hinted that he may use his new hat as EPA administrator to open a rulemaking to rescind the methane rules for new sources. If he succeeded, he would also knock out the legal duty to curb emissions from the existing sources. We will fight him on this every step of the way.
Our FOIA request is a start. Were there other communications on this matter between Pruitt and the fossil energy AGs, or between Pruitt and the fossil fuel companies he so assiduously serves? We may find additional evidence of undue influence held by climate-denying think tanks, politicians, and industrial interests.
We also requested that the EPA divulge the data on emissions and technology already submitted by responsible oil and gas companies—those who answered the information request in good faith. There are any number of good uses to which this information can be put by the general public, investors interested in ensuring that oil and gas companies are efficient and environmentally responsible, and states looking to adopt or amend their own regulations.
Let’s see what our FOIA request turns up.