Western Wire

After an appeals court in Washington, D.C. blocked EPA’s efforts to delay an Obama-era methane rule, eight Senate Democrats sent a letter to EPA Administrator Pruitt demanding information on his plans to enforce EPA’s New Source Performance Standards for methane emissions from oil and gas sites on a “case by case” basis.

Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) joined Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) on the letter.  Udall and Bennet represent the 7th and 8th states in total energy production, according to the Energy Information Administration.

But oil and gas industry trade groups all recommended following the rules on the books and maintaining compliance with methane emission regulations.

“People are exposed legally if they don’t comply, so they’re going to choose to comply,” one industry executive told E&E News.

Representatives of the oil and gas industry have sought additional guidance on enforcing the rule in the meantime.

“We’re also hoping to get some clarity from EPA on how it wants to re-engage or restart this process — whether the schedule’s going to be different, how they’re going to choose to enforce,” IPAA Executive Vice President Lee Fuller said. “We don’t have that information at this point in time.”

The EPA sought out a stay of the rule to avoid regulatory confusion while the agency works on revamping the rule under the new administration.

The letter, however, outlines the senators’ concerns with the EPA’s approach to enforcing the rule.

“Specifically, the statement suggests to both industry and the public that EPA will not take a comprehensive approach to enforcing the requirements of the rule,” the senators wrote. “At the same time, the agency has not followed its long-standing No Action Assurance policy requiring that the Assistant Administrator of the Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance (OECA) establish well-substantiated findings and well-reasoned justifications for taking no enforcement action with respect to those requirements.”

E&E News reported that the EPA has been “tight-lipped” since the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia blocked the agencies pursuit to delay of enforcement of the rule.

“EPA may elect to exercise its enforcement discretion on a case-by-case basis with respect to the fugitive emissions monitoring requirements,” an EPA spokeswoman wrote in an email. “Companies that have specific questions regarding their compliance obligations should contact the appropriate EPA regional office.”

The methane rule, finalized near the end of President Barack Obama’s second term, imposes additional regulations on new and modified oil and gas production sites.

The senators’ letter appears to suggest that the EPA is finding ways around the appeals court’s decision.

“With the EPA’s efforts to immediately halt enforcement of the Methane Rule rebuffed by the courts its announcement that enforcement will now proceed on a “case by case basis” suggest that EPA will attempt to accomplish by an ad hoc enforcement approach what it could not accomplish through its unlawful stay,” the senators wrote.