Green groups ask court to reverse EPA's freeze of methane rule

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Green groups responded to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s attempt on Monday to freeze a rule requiring oil and gas companies to fix methane leaks in their equipment, asking a federal appeals court for an immediate reversal of the EPA move.

The rule was set to go into effect on Saturday. Drillers and transporters would have had to start reporting and fixing any methane leaks they found in wells and transfer stations.

The lawsuit that the Natural Resources Defense Council, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and other environmental groups filed on Monday argued the EPA didn’t follow procedures detailed in the 1970 law known as the Clean Air Act when it froze the rule.

An EPA spokeswoman declined to comment on the lawsuit, and did not immediately respond to questions about why the EPA suspended the rule.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt wrote to industry groups on April 18 saying the EPA had decided to stay the rule in response to petitions from the industry.

Pruitt has vowed to make conditions more favorable for oil, gas and coal companies in the U.S. and has been examining a set of EPA regulations known as the Clean Power Plan following an executive order by President Donald Trump to “suspend, revise, or rescind” rules that “potentially burdened the development” of U.S. energy sources.

The EDF’s lead attorney Peter Zalzal said the rule was crucial to reducing air pollution, the Clean Air Act’s essential goal.

“It delivers almost half of the smog reductions and more than half of the methane reductions and 90 percent of toxic air pollution reductions,” he said. “There’s absolutely no assurance to the public, who stand to benefit from these protections, that this will happen in the absence of enforceable safeguards.”

In their request to the court, the green groups argued the Clean Air Act prevents the EPA from temporarily suspending any rule the agency is trying to change or get rid of it for good.

“The action was patently unlawful, the irreparable harm to the public is serious, and the burden on industry is minimal,” the filing said.

But Zalzal said many state laws already require companies to monitor and fix methane leaks.

“It’s something that states like Wyoming, California, Colorado and Ohio are already doing.”

The case is Clean Air Council v. Scott Pruitt, U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit, 17-1145.

(This story corrects to replace “National” with “Natural” in name of Natural Resources Defense Council environmental group in paragraph 3.)

Reporting By Emily Flitter