June 5 (UPI) -- Environmental groups Monday sued the Environmental Protection Agency over its 90-day stay on certain methane and other air pollution standards for the oil and gas industry.
A coalition filed a motion asking the Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to immediately block the EPA from halting the rule enacted last year by the Obama administration. Obama sought to reduce methane emissions among various industries.
EPA director Scott Pruitt challenged the rule as Oklahoma's attorney general. The EPA announced the halt last week and an EPA spokeswoman said Monday it is agency policy not to comment on ongoing litigation.
Groups joining in the suit include the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Sierra Club and Clean Air Task Force on behalf of Earthworks.
The suit says the EPA's 90-day halt illegally skipped the required process on the standards to limit methane pollution. The greenhouse gas is around 80 times as powerful as carbon dioxide.
Lauren Pagel, Earthworks policy director, said the "EPA is attempting to undermine the cornerstone of our methane regulations, allowing industry to continue to put thousands of people's health and well-being at risk."
In a press release, the Clean Air Task Force said EPA's stay delays regulations of sources responsible for "more half of the 2016 rule's expected methane reductions, nearly 90 percent of the anticipated reductions of hazardous air pollutants like benzene and formaldehyde, and up to one-half of reductions of ozone smog-forming volatile organic compounds."
"People living near oil and gas operations need EPA's safeguards because right now they're breathing oil and gas's toxic air pollution," Pagel said. "Instead, Trump's EPA would allow more air pollution that will lead to higher levels of cancer, asthma attacks from ozone smog and worsen the climate crisis. Our lawsuit puts Trump on notice, even as he's withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement. We will resist every step of the way and ultimately, we will prevail."
In a Federal Register notice published Monday making the 90-day pause official, the EPA cited a provision of the Clean Air Act to allow 90-day administrative stays under certain circumstances.
Last Thursday, Trump announced the United States would withdrew from the Paris climate accord.
"EPA's actions give the lie to President Trump's assertions that he is a friend to the environment, made last week as part of his Rose Garden announcement that he will withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement," said Darin Schroeder of Clean Air Task Force. "EPA's stay makes it clear that the administration cares more about the interests of the oil and gas industry than it does the American public, both current and future, who bear the brunt of the damage caused by this industry's pollution."
The regulations are opposed by the oil and gas industry, including the American Petroleum Institute.
"API welcomes this action and we look forward to working with the administration and Congress on forward-looking policies that recognize our industry as part of the solution to U.S. economic, environmental and national security goals," API spokesman Reid Porter told the National Gas Intelligence's Shale Daily. "As demonstrated through previous regulatory efforts, EPA's focus should be on cost-effective regulations that target emissions of VOCs, providing the co-benefit of methane emission reductions."