The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will delay a federal air pollution rule for 2 years, admitting that the decision will disproportionately harm children.

The agency said it will suspend standards aimed at preventing leaks from the oil and gas industry while it mulls the rule, which the Obama administration introduced in June 2016. The rule would reduce methane, a greenhouse gas, and emissions that lead to smog.

The EPA says the move will save the oil and gas industry roughly $173 million. [2]

The agency says not to worry – any harm the delay might cause children would be for a “limited” time.

“Any impacts on children’s health caused by the delay in the rule will be limited, because the length of the proposed stay is limited. The agency therefore believes it is more appropriate to consider the impact on children’s health in the context of any substantive changes proposed as part of reconsideration.”

Environmental groups are furious over the delay, saying children would especially be at risk from carcinogenic pollutants like benzene if the EPA lifts the regulation. The law applies to approximately 18,000 oil and gas facilities across 22 states. [1]

Peter Zalzal, lead attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF), said:

“It is unconscionable that this unprecedented loophole for oil and gas pollution will increase dangerous smog, methane, and cancer-causing benzene when commonsense solutions are at hand. Every day that these clean air safeguards are delayed, thousands of oil and gas wells across the country will emit dangerous pollution in the air, harming the health of our children. We are taking legal action to carry out our nation’s clean air laws and fight for the health of children across America.” [2]

The EDF takes particular exception to a section of the EPA’s announcement of the delay that states:

“EPA believes that the environmental health or safety risk addressed by this action may have a disproportionate effect on children… However, because this action merely proposes to delay the 2016 Rule, this action will not change any impacts of the 2016 Rule after the stay. Any impacts on children’s health caused by the delay in the rule will be limited, because the length of the proposed stay is limited.”

The lawsuit states:

“The cornerstone of the rule is its requirements for leak detection and repair, which direct oil and gas companies to monitor their well sites and compressor stations at regular intervals to detect leaks (also called fugitive emissions) of air pollutants, repair those leaks within specified periods, and report periodically on those actions.”

The EDF points out that the announcement acknowledges that the delay may sicken children, but argues that more illness for only 2 years is acceptable.

Air Pollution IS Harmful

air pollution

Air pollution does, indeed, cause cancer, and that’s based on the EPA’s own research. In the U.S. alone, pollution causes about 200,000 deaths each year. Toxic nanoparticles from air pollution have been found “in abundance” in human brain tissue, and these toxins may cause Alzheimer’s disease. Air pollution has even been linked to suicide.

The EDF and other environmental groups are suing the EPA over its decision to delay the rule. The agency had originally planned to delay the ordinance by 3 months, but it has since been stretched to 2019, following a period of public comment and a final EPA decision. [1]

Said Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel at the Sierra Club:

“This isn’t simply mean-spirited, it’s a deliberate attempt to benefit the oil and gas industry at the expense of our public health. Delaying the implementation of the standards last week was illegal and extending that 90-day stay to 2 years is equally valid.” [2]

The EDF, Sierra Club, and other groups involved in the lawsuit argue the EPA lacks the authority to issue a stay that is likely to cause irreparable harm to the residents living in close proximity to the aforementioned more than 18,000 new and modifiable wells subjected to the Obama-era rule. They said:

“Promulgated rules remain in effect unless and until they are validly changed through the Clean Air Act’s enhanced rule-making procedures.”

Mark Brownstein, EDF’s vice president of climate and energy, said in a statement:

“The oil and gas industry tell us natural gas is a clean, low carbon fuel, but industry lobbyists and lawyers then argue to remove the protections necessary to deliver on that claim. Sadly, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt is only too happy to do their bidding. Every day these common sense rules are not in effect, the public’s health is at risk, the climate is threatened, and the nation’s valuable energy resources are being wasted.”

Sources:

[1] The Guardian

[2] Think Progress


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About Julie Fidler:
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Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.