As US neglects its duty, UK leads fight against climate change
The Trump administration must heed the call to cut methane
The law of holes states that when you find yourself in one, the first step toward getting out is to stop digging. But President Trump seems hell bent on digging us toward climate catastrophe, even as the hole's ostensible beneficiaries - major oil and gas companies - urge his administration to stop.
The Interior Department repealed its oil and gas methane safeguards last year, and Andrew Wheeler's Environmental Protection Agency seems poised to finish rollbacking its rules this year. The EPA's methane repeal proposal soon may be sent to White House for final review.
But there is cause for hope.
The Trump administration has attacked commonsense, cost-effective and essential climate policies that support preserving - and even expanding - safeguards. In addition to support for strong federal methane rules from Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Equinor, a bill to block and reverse the administration's methane rollbacks recently was introduced in the House.
The reason for such widespread agreement has everything to do with the urgency of the methane pollution problem from oil and gas.
Methane, a greenhouse gas that is 86 times more potent than carbon dioxide in the near term, is one of the main drivers of the rapidly accelerating climate crisis. And according to NASA, oil and gas is the main contributor to the global methane pollution spike since the onset of the fracking boom.
This should be unsurprising since methane is emitted at every step of the oil and gas supply chain. When it leaks into the atmosphere, so do associated toxic air pollutants known to have harmful health impacts. So, it is not surprising that environmental advocates, climate experts and health professionals long have protested attacks on efforts to reduce and eliminate the threat of methane.
But over the past few months, the advocacy for action on the oil and gas methane problem has increased exponentially. When the EPA held a hearing last fall on the proposed weakening of protections, people from across the country converged in Denver to oppose the move, outnumbering industry lobbyists by more than 10 to one.
Newspapers across the country have editorialized on the issue, from calling out companies for failing to back their words with action to supporting efforts by states to do what the federal government is unwilling to do.
The biggest news, however, is the tectonic shift within the oil and gas industry itself.
At a March energy industry conference in Houston, four of the world's largest oil and gas companies - Royal Dutch Shell, BP, ExxonMobil and Equinor - did something unexpected. They each spoke out in support of the direct federal oversight of methane pollution from their industry. Shell stole the show, however, by directly calling on the EPA to not only preserve but strengthen methane pollution standards for oil and gas operations in the United States.
As Gretchen Watkins, Shell's U.S. country chair, put it: "We don't usually tell governments how to do their job but we're ready to break with that and say, 'Actually, we want to tell you how to do your job.'"
Days later, in the Houston Chronicle, BP America Chairwoman Susan Dio explicitly endorsed strengthening federal methane rules to include existing oil and gas facilities, in addition to the new operations governed by EPA safeguards. Her reasoning for this change of position on methane rules? It makes good business sense. Not only will eliminating methane pollution mean more product for companies to send to market, but the entire oil and gas sector runs the risk of losing its social license to operate if it refuses to immediately address its contributions to climate change.
Robert Kester, CEO of Rebellion Photonics, spelled out the argument for how methane rules actually benefit business by explaining that there are over 130 companies in 46 states that produce and service methane mitigation technologies in a sector that is growing and bringing with it high-paying, blue-collar American jobs that cannot be outsourced overseas.
As political support grows for federal oil and gas methane safeguards, so does the pressure for the Trump administration and EPA to reconsider their approach to methane pollution. Big Oil, health experts and environmentalists are finding common ground on methane because climate change is an existential threat not just to the environment, not just to health, but to business as well. The Trump administration should heed their call.
Lauren Pagel is the policy director at Earthworks. Follow her on Twitter @Earthworks.