EPA expects success from new methane rules

EPA expects success from new methane rules
© Greg Nash

A top environmental regulator said Tuesday that he expects new federal standards for methane emissions will succeed in cutting down on the potent greenhouse gas.

Joseph Goffman, the associate assistant administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Air and Regulation, said Tuesday that the agency’s new methane standards, combined with expanded voluntary programs, will help the natural gas industry reduce its methane emissions.

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“If we develop a meaningful expansion of our voluntary programs, we will see industry succeed, both in achieving its voluntary commitments and achieving its legal obligations, while continuing to thrive economically,” Goffman said at an event hosted by The Hill and sponsored by the Environmental Defense Fund. 

“That’s the definition of success, as far as we’re concerned.”

The EPA proposed new rules on methane emissions at new natural gas sites in August after pitching a plan to expand its voluntary leak tracking program the month before. 

Officials said the new rule would cut between 340,000 and 400,000 short tons of methane annually by 2025, roughly the equivalent of 7.7 to 9 million metric tones of carbon dioxide. 

The proposed rule and voluntary programs are part of a government-wide effort to cut emissions of methane, the main component of natural gas and an especially powerful greenhouse gas, by 45 percent over the next decade. Officials hope to finalize the rule by next spring.

Republicans have promised to fight the regulations, which some have characterized as another Obama administration assault on the fossil fuel industry. 

Natural gas interests have similarly pushed back against the rule, saying they have a financial incentive to cut down on methane leaks on their own. Many have said a voluntary methane leak program, such as the one the EPA is proposing to expand, is all the industry needs to work on the issue.

But Bob Perciasepe, the president of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions, endorsed the EPA’s regulatory approach on Tuesday.

“You can definitely get results from voluntary programs, and this has happened time and time again in environmental and other types of programs,” he said at The Hill event.

“However, here you have half a million existing wells, you have several thousand operators out there. You have a very diverse world working on this. I think EPA did the right thing to come up with a mix here of some regulatory, some voluntary.”

The methane effort is part of the Obama administration’s climate agenda, which, along with the EPA’s climate rule for power plants and other steps, has injected energy into the government’s focus on climate change, Goffman said. 

“The president, the administrator and the administration as a whole is committed to the kind of follow-through that is needed to achieving a meaningful, long-lasting climate policy,” he said, “that will not only achieve reductions in the short-term, promote innovations and technologies and practices, but will also lay the groundwork for our successors, whether it’s in this decade or the next decades after, to continue to take on climate change.”