Last week the president and his administration took another unprecedented step in an attempt to regulate greenhouse gas emissions and drive up energy costs--proposing new rules targeting methane emissions. The move may have excited the president’s base, but the new standards--expected to be proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency this summer--will certainly have far reaching effects in the energy industry for years to come, and more immediately, Americans will feel the effects in their pocketbooks.
According to the EPA, methane accounts for about 9 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities, making it the second most prevalent greenhouse gas emitted in the United States. It’s also the primary component in natural gas, which has helped lower energy prices substantially in the U.S. and around the world.
In fact, the boom in natural gas production is a key factor driving down prices at the pump and giving Americans a much needed respite after an extended recession. And experts have predicted that prices will drop even lower--anticipating an average of $2 a gallon by spring of 2015. However, those forecasts may not be accurate if the administration has its way.
President Obama wasn’t kidding earlier this month when he told Americans not to get used to cheap gas at the pump.
“I would strongly advise American consumers to continue to think about how you save money at the pump because it is good for the environment, it’s good for family pocketbooks,” Obama said earlier this month. “And if you go back to old habits and suddenly gas is back at $3.50, you are going to not be real happy.”
Americans shouldn’t be happy--especially in light of the president’s most recent overreach--but not just because of the potential for rising prices at the pump. Obama has a long record of implementing regulations that hurt small businesses and the energy industry, but his most recent plan boils down to a purely political ploy based on flawed reasoning, without regard for the progress that’s being made.
The energy industry has reduced methane emissions by at least 16 percent since 1990, despite impressive increases of natural gas production--rising 37 percent during the same period. Furthermore, despite the natural gas industry being the target of the administration’s latest attack, more than 71 percent of methane emission are produced by other sources.
While the forthcoming regulations are only expected to apply to new wells, the new standards will certainly hinder expansion in the natural gas industry and set a dangerous precedent for future regulatory overreach.
Dina Kruger, who served as the EPA’s director of climate change under both Bush administrations, notes that “deciding to regulate methane directly, even if only new sources at this time, EPA has set the stage to reduce more in the future.”
The stage is set, indeed. For an administration that has ruled by fiat, Obama’s latest announcement shouldn’t come as a surprise to most. Though the new standards exclude current wells, the president is certainly laying the groundwork to regulate the industry much more broadly.
As energy costs increase for small businesses and prices start rising at the pump, it should be very clear to everyday Americans that Obama’s incursion on the energy industry is really an attack on them.
Telford is acting president at the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.