Texas Launches New Effort To Sue The EPA Over Methane Regulations

Petrochemical plants and refineries are shown in this aerial view Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 in Deer Park, Texas. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DAVID J. PHILLIP
Petrochemical plants and refineries are shown in this aerial view Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 in Deer Park, Texas. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/DAVID J. PHILLIP

Texas, so fond of seeing the environmental regulators in court that it has sued the Environmental Protection Agency dozens of times, wants to take the EPA to court for a brand new reason.

The Texas Railroad Commission recommended that the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, file another lawsuit targeting new EPA regulations seeking to limit methane emissions. Texas would be the first state to do so.

“The action of the Railroad Commission shows once again how much our state leaders put the interest of industry ahead of public health, and how blind they are to the realities of climate change,” said David Foster, the Texas state director for Clean Water Action, in a statement.

Last month, the EPA also finalized their methane regulations for new oil and gas infrastructure.

In December, the Railroad Commission warned against the “federal overreach” of the methane rules. Paxton has not said what his intentions are, but he will find support from his governor.

“This latest rule is just more hot air from the Obama administration in an attempt to line the pockets of their buddies in green energy, while ignoring the interests of hardworking Americans,” John Wittman, spokesman for Gov. Greg Abbott, told reporters in regard to the methane rules last month. Watchdog.org reports that Paxton has until mid-July to file.

Seven states sued the EPA in 2012 for failing to issue methane regulations — the EPA responded with a new regulatory process three years later.

Methane Leaks Erase Climate Benefit Of Fracked Gas, Countless Studies FindClimate CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay, File Fracking is not good for the climate. Or, to put it a tad more scientifically,…thinkprogress.orgMethane is a potent, effective greenhouse gas, trapping 84 times the amount of heat that carbon dioxide does for the first 20 years in the atmosphere. This makes even what may seem like a small amount of methane leakage from fracking natural gas into such a problem that the cleaner-burning fuel ends up being worse for the climate than burning coal.

The fracking boom in states like North Dakota and Texas means that methane pollution is becoming more and more of a problem. NOAA’s annual greenhouse gas index shows that methane pollution rose sharply in 2015 compared to prior years.

This has been a largely ignored, invisible problem until recently. EPA’s regulations would be the first-ever standards to cut methane emissions from oil and gas infrastructure.

“It’s disappointing that the Railroad Commission is working against EPA on putting these important protections in place, especially because the agency’s new methane rule is an extremely cost-effective tool to help reduce the nearly 10 million metric tons of methane pollution the oil and gas industry is emitting each year,” said Colin Leyden, EDF’s senior manager of state regulatory and legislative affairs, in a statement.

“Rather than fight against these protections, we hope the commission will choose to work with EPA to help implement commonsense climate and clean air protections that the vast majority of Americans support and that Texans deserve,” Leyden said.

Cutting down on methane pollution, rather than being a difficult regulatory burden industry so often complains about, will actually save them money and allow them to sell more of their product. Natural gas is mostly methane, so the more that is kept out of the atmosphere, the more the companies can sell for a profit. Repairing aging, leaky gas pipelines is even something that brings together unions, environmentalists, and the gas industry. There’s even a fledgling industry attempting to save the gas industry money by letting them plug more leaks. Still, that didn’t stop some in the industry from saying, “this is a costly rule that puts a bullseye on the Texas energy economy.”

Texas spews more methane emissions into the air than any other state. Last year, North Dakota’s Bakken oil and gas field leaked 275,000 tons of methane into the air last year, according to NOAA research. Texas easily beat North Dakota. In fact, a study last year found that Texas’ Barnett Shale formation was emitting 90 percent more methane than the EPA had originally estimated.

The Massive Methane Blowout In Aliso Canyon Was The Largest in U.S. HistoryClimate by CREDIT: AP Photo/Richard Vogel When the massive methane gas leak in Aliso Canyon was discovered in…thinkprogress.orgWhen California’s Aliso Canyon methane leak made headlines as the largest-ever leak in U.S. history, people were understandably outraged. Yet Texas puts that to shame in the form of a huge number of smaller leaks. As a whole, the Lonestar State emits ten times the methane leaked in Aliso Canyon — every year. That’s a third of the nation’s total methane pollution.

The industry has an ally in Texas’ attorney general. Last month, Paxton called the case investigating what Exxon knew about climate change and when “ridiculous,” and attempting to block inquiries into Exxon’s records.

The Commission believes it has oil and gas regulation well in hand, and the air quality agency is doing a fine job too.

“The Railroad Commission knows how to regulate the oil and gas industry in Texas, and our sister agency, the TCEQ, does an excellent job of regulating air quality in Texas,” Commissioner Ryan Sitton said in December.