On January 19, 2021, in a 2-1 decision, the D.C. Circuit Court vacated the Trump administration’s 2019 Affordable Clean Energy (ACE) Rule and remanded it to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The decision offers a strong statement about EPA’s breadth of authority to regulate greenhouse gases (GHGs) under the Clean Air Act (CAA) and, if its position is upheld, clears the way for the Biden administration to regulate power plants.

The Affordable Clean Energy Rule

The EPA promulgated the ACE Rule in 2019 under the CAA, replacing the Obama administration’s 2015 Clean Power Plan (CPP). Both rules sought to reduce GHG emissions from the power sector; but where the CPP implemented broader industry-wide mechanisms, the ACE Rule limited reduction efforts to the actual source power plants.

The 2015 CPP offered “beyond the fenceline” tools for states to reduce emissions by replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources and participating in emissions credit-trading programs; however, in February 2016 the U.S. Supreme Court stayed the implementation of the CPP pending litigation in the D.C. Circuit. During the stay and subsequent freeze of litigation, the Trump administration rescinded the CPP and promulgated the ACE Rule.

In promulgating the ACE Rule, the Trump EPA took an alternative view of the CAA than the Obama EPA and reasoned that the CAA expressly limited the EPA’s power to only “at the source” emissions reduction options, such as heat rate improvement technologies. As a result, the Trump administration removed all of the CPP’s “beyond the fenceline” options and limited emissions restrictions to those applied directly to power plants.Continue Reading The fall of Trump’s Affordable Clean Energy Rule and the strengthened EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases

On August 13, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued two final rules—a Methane Policy Rule and an Inspection Rule —rolling back portions of its New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for the oil and gas industry. In explaining these changes, EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler stated that the EPA rescinded portions of the Methane Policy Rule because those portions were based on an impermissibly broad interpretation of the Clean Air Act (CAA).

Updated methane regulations rescind methane standards and ease emissions requirements

Under the new Methane Policy Rule, the EPA rescinded methane and volatile organic compound (VOC) emissions standards for new and modified oil and gas transmission and storage infrastructure, including methane limits for new and modified oil and gas production and processing equipment.

Under the Inspection Rule, the EPA relaxed requirements for oil and gas operators to monitor emissions leaks. This Rule excludes low production well sites (“where the total combined oil and natural gas production for the well site is at or below 15 barrels of oil equivalent per day”) from fugitive emissions monitoring, as long as operators maintain records to demonstrate well production remains at or below the requisite threshold. Additionally, all fugitive emissions monitoring may stop when all major production and processing equipment is removed from the well site.Continue Reading EPA rolls back methane regulations for oil and gas infrastructure

On June 1, 2020, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced final action to reduce emissions of ethylene oxide (EO) from certain sources. EO is an intermediary chemical used to make plastics, textiles and antifreeze, and also is used to sterilize medical devices. Scrutiny of EO has increased in the past few years due to the chemical’s potential carcinogenic effects. EPA’s regulatory action is the first update to national hazardous air pollutant limits for the chemical manufacturing sector since 2006, and the agency expects the regulations to reduce EO emissions by 0.76 tons per year. The announcement caps off a flurry of recent activity by EPA and state agencies aimed at addressing EO emissions.
Continue Reading U.S. regulatory developments: EPA issues first in a series of rules restricting ethylene oxide emissions