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The Environmental Protection Agency told a federal court April 2 it needs two additional weeks to finalize expanded air pollution standards for the oil and gas industry (WildEarth Guardians v. EPA, D.D.C., No. 09-00089, stipulation filed 4/2/12).
The agency now is expected to finalize the rule by April 17, instead of the previous deadline of April 3. EPA is under a court-ordered deadline to issue the rule as part of a consent decree resolving a lawsuit brought by environmental groups.
Earthjustice attorney Robin Cooley, representing WildEarth Guardians and the San Juan Citizens Alliance, said April 2 the environmental groups agreed to the deadline change.
“We're disappointed EPA hasn't gotten their act together, because these rules are long overdue and the pollution controls are desperately needed, but at the end of the day, what we want is for EPA to finalize a good, strong rule,” Cooley said during a call with reporters on the oil and gas rule.
Since the public comment period closed Nov. 30, EPA told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in the April 2 filing, it “has been laboring to consider a wide variety of complex technical comments, respond to the comments, and formulate the final rule. EPA is very near completion of these tasks and requires just two additional weeks to finish responding to comments and finalize the final rule.”
The agency said the rule could be vulnerable to legal challenges without the additional time.
“[A]llowing the Agency the additional time will reduce the risk that a petition for review would be granted on the ground that EPA failed to adequately respond to comments,” EPA told the court. “A successful petition could undo the standards and so delay realization of the intended air quality improvements pending further administrative action. Thus, while the requested extension would add only two weeks to the rulemaking process, maintaining the current deadline could result in a far longer delay.”
The White House Office of Management and Budget has been reviewing the final rule since March 2.
A draft final rule that EPA was preparing for White House review in late February would cost $348 million per year, about half the cost of the proposal, and would reduce less pollution, agency documents indicate (62 DER A-30, 4/2/12).
In July, EPA proposed new source performance standards and national emissions standards for hazardous air pollutants for the oil and natural gas sector (76 Fed. Reg. 52,738; 146 DER A-16, 7/29/11).
The new source performance standards would cover new and modified oil and gas production, processing, transmission, and storage. The new standards would cover processes or equipment in oil and gas production that previously have not been covered by federal rules. Those include well completions at hydraulically fractured gas wells, EPA has said.
The air toxics standards would cover oil and gas production facilities and gas transmission and storage facilities.
The stipulation filed by EPA and the plaintiffs with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia in WildEarth Guardians v. EPA is available at http://epa.gov/airquality/oilandgas/pdfs/20120402stipulation.pdf.
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