The move will reconsider an Obama-era regulation meant to curb methane emissions from new oil and gas wells. The ultimate purpose of the rule was reducing the US impact on climate change.
During the "reconsideration process," the agency is placing a 90-day stay on oil and gas companies compliance on the rule, which was one of several rules President Donald Trump asked the EPA to review in an executive orde
r last month.
Pruitt informed the oil and gas industry of the move in a letter
Wednesday to the American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association, among others.
"EPA is continuing to follow through with President Trump's energy independence executive order," Pruitt said in a statement. "American businesses should have the opportunity to review new requirements, assess economic impacts and report back, before those new requirements are finalized."
Pruitt notes that as part of the process, the EPA will also provide an opportunity for notice and a public comment period on the issues raised in the industry petitions.
Environmentalists and scientists have vocally disputed the administration's aim to roll back the Obama-era rules.
Responding to the methane gas rule delay, one environmental group decried Pruitt for "listening to powerful industry voices rather than the evidence."
"Methane is an incredibly potent greenhouse gas, and the scale of methane emissions from oil and gas production is enormous," said Michelle Robinson, director of the clean vehicles program at the Union of Concerned Scientists. "There are proven, low-cost ways to capture methane instead of letting it pollute our air, and the last administration put in place standards to make sure we do just that. It makes no sense for Administrator Pruitt to put those rules at risk."
Joanne Spalding, chief climate counsel for the Sierra Club called the move "a thinly veiled attempt to take back this rule that was finalized and already in effect."
Spalding argued that the industry petitions that sparked the 90-day delay have no basis in law under the Clean Air Act. Under the act, the petitions have to raise issues that were not raised during the public comment period before the methane gas rule was determined. But, Spalding said, the issues raised in the petitions are on record during the previous comment period.
"Pruitt justifies reconsideration by suggesting that industry did not have an adequate opportunity to comment on the inclusion of low-producing wells or the process for requesting an alternative means of emission limitation," she said. "Those justifications are a sham, and the reconsideration and stay are just another giveaway to the fossil fuel industry."
The EPA's move to delay the methane rule is one of a string of "reconsiderations," or delays on Obama-era regulations recently enacted by the Trump administration.
Trump issued another executive order
in early March asking the EPA to repeal and replace the Clean Water Rule, also known as the Waters of the US rule.
Last month, Pruitt delayed the implementation of a chemical storage rule that aimed to tighten safety requirements for companies. The regulation was crafted following a 2013 fertilizer plant explosion in Texas that killed 15 people.
A group of scientists recently filed a motion
against industry leader attempts to put additional delays on that rule.
As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt in the past was an ardent defender of industry rights, arguing against a number of EPA rules issued under President Barack Obama and specifically against the methane gas rule.
In fact, it was through his 2013 letter
to the EPA against the methane rule that he was caught expressly collaborating with an oil and natural gas giant on his stance.
In June 2013, a top lobbyist at Devon Energy, an Oklahoma-based oil and natural gas giant, sent Pruitt's top officials a draft letter objecting to the recently proposed EPA regulations.
Two months later, Pruitt signed a nearly identical version of that letter and sent it to then-Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. The communications were obtained by The New York Times
through an open records request in 2014.