EPA chief delays methane rule at behest of oil and gas firms


The Environmental Protection Agency is again moving to derail Obama-era regulations aimed at reducing pollution from the fossil fuel industry.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced Wednesday he's issued a 90-day delay for oil and gas companies to follow a new rule requiring them to monitor and reduce methane leaks from their facilities. Pruitt said the agency will now reconsider the 2016 measure, which the companies were required to comply with by June.

It was the latest in a slew of actions by Pruitt to set aside environmental regulations opposed by corporate interests. The American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and other industry groups petitioned Pruitt to scrap the requirement.

"American businesses should have the opportunity to review new requirements, assess economic impacts and report back, before those new requirements are finalized," Pruitt said in a statement.

Natural gas is largely made up of methane. It is a potent greenhouse gas, causing up to 100 times more warming in the planet's atmosphere than the same amount of carbon dioxide.

Pruitt's decision came less than a month after he waived an earlier EPA edict that asked 15,000 oil and gas producers to track and report their methane emissions.

Environmental groups contend that actual methane emissions from leaks and intentional venting at fossil-fuel operations are many times greater than what is now reported. They vow to take Pruitt to court.

"Rolling back these rules benefits the worst actors in the business, at the expense of both responsible companies and ordinary everyday Americans," said Mark Brownstein, a spokesman for the Environmental Defense Fund. "Plugging the leaks is straightforward and cost effective."

Oil and gas companies say they were already working to reduce methane emissions and that complying with the new rules would make many low-production wells unprofitable.

Howard Feldman, a senior director at the American Petroleum Institute, said his group would work with the Trump administration and Congress on new policies "that recognize our industry as part of the solution to U.S. economic, environmental and national security goals."

Prior to his appointment by President Donald Trump to serve as the nation's chief environmental regulator, Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma and closely aligned with the state's oil and gas industry. In recent weeks, Pruitt has moved to scrap or delay numerous EPA regulations enacted during the Obama administration to curb air and water pollution from fossil fuel operations.

Like the president who appointed him, Pruitt has expressed doubt about the consensus of climate scientists that the world is warming and that man-made carbon emissions are primarily to blame.

"Scott Pruitt is continuing his relentless assault on public health and a stable climate at the behest of corporate polluters by seeking to dismantle life-saving methane safeguards," said Andres Restrepo, a lawyer for the Sierra Club. "His decision to delay the standards on behalf of his close ally is, quite simply, illegal."

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Associated Press writer David Koenig in Dallas contributed to this report.

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Follow AP environmental writer Michael Biesecker at www.Twitter.com/mbieseck


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