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Delaware planning suit against federal government over failure to enforce environmental protection laws

December 18, 2012

Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden and six of his colleagues informed the federal Environmental Protection Agency recently that their states plan to sue the agency because it has violated the Clean Air Act.

The EPA, the states believe, has not addressed the methane gas emitted by the oil and natural gas industry as required by the law. The agency has ruled that methane is a dangerous pollutant that contributes to climate change.

However, despite this ruling, the EPA has failed to include methane recently when it updated air pollution standards for the oil and natural gas industries.

“Delaware is a low-lying state that will be significantly impacted by sea-level rise from climate change,” Biden said. “We must reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases that damage our environment, contribute to climate change, and pose a threat to public health. That is why we're acting to protect Delaware's future by ensuring that the EPA follows the law and requires reductions of methane emissions.”

According to the EPA, methane is at least 20 times more dangerous to the climate than carbon dioxide. The gas, the EPA has said, contributes to climate change though “increased air and ocean temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, melting and thawing of global glaciers and ice, increasingly severe weather events - such as hurricanes of greater intensity - and sea level rise.” Based on EPA estimates, the natural gas industry is the largest source of human-produced methane emissions in the United States.

Under the federal Clean Air Act, the EPA must set emission limits that will reduce dangerous air pollution that threatens public health and causes climate change. In August, the EPA issued new pollution-control requirements for the oil and natural gas industries that do not include mandates to cut down on methane emissions.

Under the law, the states had to provide the EPA with a 60-day notice of their intent to file a suit against the agency. In addition to Delaware, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York Rhode Island, and Vermont are planning to sue the EPA.