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Sun sets on an Extraction Oil & Gas oil drilling rig in operation on the Livingston pad on the west side of the Anthem neighborhood in Broomfield on Aug. 2, 2019. (Dana Coffield, The Colorado Sun)

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser on Thursday vowed to sue the Trump administration over its decision to roll back methane rules aimed at curbing the release of potent greenhouse gases from oil and gas sites. 

The Environmental Protection Agency moved on Thursday to rescind the regulations, put in place under President Barack Obama and modeled after rules enacted by Colorado on the state level in 2014. 

Weiser, a Democrat, said in a written statement that “the EPA’s proposal to reverse these standards to curb methane emissions is misguided and ignores the requests from the oil and gas industry to keep them in place.”

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He argues that even though Colorado’s methane rules will remain in place, the effect of methane gas on the state from increased emissions elsewhere makes it imperative to challenge the rollback in court.

“Methane emissions don’t stop at state lines,” Wesier’s statement said. “As such, Colorado has a strong interest in regulating the release of this harmful greenhouse gas on a national level.”

If Weiser ultimately joins or files a lawsuit against the Trump administration on the methane rules rollback, it would mark his 11th lawsuit against White House policies. 

Gov. Jared Polis also blasted the rollbacks. “Once again, the Trump administration is failing to lead, and it’s up to states like Colorado to drive bold solutions that will protect the health of our communities and address climate change,” he said in a statement.

Colorado Attorney General Phil Weiser, right, speaks at a news conference flanked by Gov. Jared Polis. (Jesse Paul, The Colorado Sun)

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement that the rollback of the 2016 regulations come after President Donald Trump’s directions to remove “unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry.”

Exxon Mobil and some other oil giants — wary of blowback from growing public concern over global warming — joined environmental groups in urging the Trump administration not to rescind methane controls, although several state-level and national industry groups welcomed the move.

The step would be the latest in a series of steps unwinding the Obama administration’s efforts to cut climate-changing emissions from the oil, gas and coal industries, including a 2016 rule regulating oil-industry methane leaks as a pollutant under the federal Clean Air Act.

Trump has pushed to open vast expanses of U.S. wilderness and coastline to oil and gas drilling, speed construction of petroleum pipelines and ease regulations on the industry, dismissing calls from scientists in and out of government for rapid cuts in oil, gas and coal emissions to stave off the worst of climate change.

Asked about global warming this week, Trump only lauded the United States’ “tremendous wealth.” ”The wealth is under its feet,” he said, praising oil and gas production.

Along with carbon dioxide, methane is a component of natural gas that’s frequently wasted through leaks or intentional releases during drilling operations. While methane survives for less time in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide, it traps far more heat in the atmosphere. Methane does 25 times the damage to the atmosphere over the long term than carbon dioxide, according to the EPA.

The oil and gas industry is the nation’s primary source of methane emissions, according to the EPA, accounting for nearly one-third in 2016.

Part of Extraction Oil & Gas’s Sharpe extraction site is visible behind a noise wall in Adams County on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Andy Colwell, Special to the Colorado Sun)

The Obama-era requirements to find and fix methane leaks imposed “a disproportionate effect on small businesses” in the oil industry, said Erik Milito of the American Petroleum Institute. “A lot of mom and pops would have their wells shut in, elderly people with wells on their properties that could be shut down” under the rules to be rescinded.

But the rollbacks on emissions from oilfields, storage sites and pipelines have split the oil industry, worrying some in the industry about growing blowback in a world increasingly mindful of climate change.

Some oil majors this year urged the administration to crack down — not ease up — on the emissions. They repeated that request Thursday.

Directly regulating methane emissions and driving down leaks is “not only the right thing to do for the environment, there is also a clear business case for doing this,” said Susan Dio, president of BP America, in a statement.

Exxon Mobil spokesman Scott Silvestri said the oil giant would continue urging EPA — as it has since last year — to stick to directly regulating methane emissions from oil and gas facilities.

Asked about those requests, Anne Idsal, the EPA’s acting assistant administrator for air, told reporters, “We don’t preclude anyone from going above and beyond if that’s something they want to do.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Jesse Paul

The Colorado Sun — Desk: 720-432-2229 Jesse Paul is a political reporter and editor at The Colorado Sun, covering the state legislature, Congress and local politics. He is...