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Attorney General Nessel Joins Series of Multistate Actions
April 30, 2021
LANSING - Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel continues to join a number of multistate actions including:
Letter Urging Congress to Void Trump-Era EPA Regulation
Nessel joined a coalition urging Congress to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA) to invalidate a Trump Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulation that eliminates key limits on pollutants from oil and gas facilities that contribute to climate change and smog, and are also dangerous by themselves.
The regulation - known as the methane "Rescission Rule" - replaced a prior regulation that ensured new oil and natural gas facilities would apply common sense, cost-effective measures to control emissions of methane and volatile organic compounds (VOCs), hazardous air pollutants that can also form smog. Oil and natural gas facilities are currently the single largest industrial source of methane emissions, and contribute to smog pollution that triggers asthma attacks, and can cause premature death.
"The previous administration recklessly eliminated certain pollution limits on oil and gas facilities, putting the health and safety of our communities at risk," Nessel said. "Congress must act immediately under the Congressional Review Act to invalidate this action and properly regulate these harmful emissions."
As detailed in the coalition's letter, the Rescission Rule removed methane emission standards for new (including modified and reconstructed) oil and gas facilities that EPA had issued four years earlier pursuant to the Clean Air Act. The 2016 rule reduced methane and smog-forming VOC pollution through "common sense, cost-effective approaches" such as more efficient technology and leak detection and repair. Importantly, the rule required the methane emission standards to apply to similar equipment used in the production, processing, and transmission and storage segments of new oil and gas facilities. The coalition wrote that "the 2016 rule helped to prevent and mitigate significant harms to public health and the environment while increasing the efficiency of natural gas operations."
Taking into account the health benefits of the 2016 rule and the increased revenues that operators would realize from recovering natural gas that would otherwise be released, EPA determined that the rule would result in a net benefit of $170 million in 2025. However, in September 2020, the former administration's EPA adopted the Rescission Rule, repealing the requirements that directly limited methane emissions at new oil and gas facilities. The rule also eliminated pollution control on methane and VOCs emitted by facilities engaged in the transmission and storage of natural gas, despite that these segments use some of the same equipment as - and emit methane and VOCs the same as - production and processing facilities. In fact, in adopting the Rescission Rule, EPA acknowledged that it would increase pollution emissions from new oil and gas facilities, including 448,000 more tons of methane, 12,000 more tons of VOCs, and 400 more tons of hazardous air pollutants by 2030.
The coalition urges the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives to "promptly" pass CRA resolutions disapproving the Rescission Rule. As the coalition's letter states, disapproving the Rule (with President Biden's expected signature) would restore the provisions in the 2016 rule that directly regulated methane and VOCs from new sources in the transmission and storage sector - and thus, "result in substantial public health, environmental, and economic benefits." Disapproving the Rescission Rule will also facilitate state efforts to limit methane emissions from existing facilities.
Recommendation to Establish Office of Public Participation
On April 23, Nessel joined a coalition of nine attorneys general and the Maine Office of the Public Advocate, as well as the Maryland People's Counsel, in issuing recommendations to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) on how to establish and operate a new Office of Public Participation (OPP) that will encourage more equal and active engagement by community members, consumers, and businesses in energy decision making.
In the comments filed with FERC Friday, April 23, the coalition asserts that there are significant barriers to stakeholders participating in FERC proceedings, with a perception that the Commission does not welcome or meaningfully consider input from anyone other than market participants. Overcoming these barriers will require financial support programs, targeted education and accessibility initiatives, and new types of outreach and engagement tools.
"People deserve a say in decisions that directly impact them," Nessel said. "Creating the office of Public Participation will encourage engagement and give communities an opportunity to be involved in FERC's decision-making process."
In the letter the coalition writes, "Greater public engagement, and the Commission's embrace of that engagement, are critical steps toward the Commission's goal of better incorporating environmental justice and energy justice concerns into its decision-making processes."
The coalition specifically calls for the OPP to:
- Develop public participation plans for FERC proceedings;
- Draw lessons from successful state intervenor funding programs and public education initiatives;
- Employ staff in each region dedicated to enhancing regional grid governance;
- Support and collaborate with state consumer advocates; and
- Implement new accessibility initiatives, such as telephone hotlines, appointment of public liaisons, better materials for non-English language speakers, easy-to-understand guides and internet tools, and more public input opportunities.
Letter Calling for Funding for the Legal Services Corporation
On April 29, Nessel joined the National Association of Attorneys General (NAAG) in sending a letter to Congress in support of continued funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC).
"Since 1974, LSC funding has provided vital and diverse legal assistance to low-income Americans including victims of natural disasters, survivors of domestic violence, families facing foreclosure, and veterans accessing earned benefits. Today, LSC also provides essential support for struggling families affected by the COVID-19 pandemic," reads the NAAG letter signed by 41 attorneys general.
LSC also supports collaboration between legal aid organizations and private firms and attorneys. LSC provides federal funding to over 130 nonprofit legal aid programs which provide services to people in need.