EPA’s methane rule rollback won’t apply to Colorado but could cause headaches down the road

The problem with state-by-state regulations: Wind blows methane across borders

A new Environmental Protection Agency proposal to weaken the rules governing methane emissions would not directly affect Colorado, but, if adopted, the new rules could create two different sets of requirements for producers here and elsewhere and could subject the state to increased pollution from surrounding states.

State public health officials, industry and environmental representatives told The Colorado Independent that Colorado’s regulations would remain unchanged by federal policy.

“The operators in the state of Colorado will have to comply with our rules that have been on the books for a long time,” said Jeremy Neustifter, an Air Quality Planner with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.

As part of the Trump administration’s ongoing quest to undo what industry leaders see as overly burdensome and costly Obama-era regulations aimed at curbing climate change, Tuesday’s proposal would slow down the frequency of companies monitoring and repairing methane leaks. The gas is a routine byproduct of oil and gas extraction, and it is among the most powerful greenhouse gases contributing to climate change.

The rule the EPA seeks to roll back was put in place by the Obama White House – and it was modeled after a first-in-the-nation set of regulations that state, local and industry leaders as well as environmental groups here in Colorado negotiated and enacted in 2014. 

Neustifter said he does not expect Colorado producers to become emboldened and see the signals from Washington as a go-ahead to undermine the state’s existing rules.

Dan Haley, president of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, confirmed as much, saying in a statement: “Colorado oil and natural gas companies are working hard to follow these rules and we are seeing emission levels drop as a result. Colorado’s air is getting cleaner, and we are proud to be part of the solution.”

The problem with state-by-state regulations: Wind blows methane across borders

Environmental groups are sounding the alarm bells that weakening the national baseline for what oil and gas companies are required to do is a step in the wrong direction and bad for everyone — including Coloradans.  

“We are already seeing transport issues, where [pollutants] are being blown in from operations in Utah and New Mexico, where they don’t have strong protections, and we are paying the consequences,” said Dan Grossman, National Director of State Programs at the Environmental Defense Fund, which was involved in writing the rules governing Colorado’s methane emissions.

But Western Energy Alliance president Kathleen Sgamma pointed out that the EPA action would not do away with regulating methane release into the air but defer to the states to enact stronger regulations and allow advances in technology rather than red tape to curb emissions.

The EDF’s Grossman said if the Trump administration finalizes the rollback as proposed, his organization would “look very carefully at challenging it legally.” He points to state health department data showing significant reductions in methane emissions since Colorado’s rules were put in place in 2014.

And while the EPA in its announcement on Tuesday said that the rollback would reduce duplicative EPA and state requirements for operators, at least in Colorado that would not be the case.

“If the [EPA] rules are different under the rollback, then those operators will be forced to comply with two different requirements,” said Neustifter of CDPHE. He rebutted the EPA’s suggestion that Colorado standards and the current EPA rules are duplicative. “In reality they are just lined up — which is something that was done on purpose.”

A spokesperson for the Colorado EPA declined to comment and instead referred to the announcement from DC headquarters when asked about the anticipated rules discrepancy. The proposed rule will be open to a 60-day public comment period. The Indy will post a link to the form when available.