Energy & Environment

New Trump rule would weaken Obama methane pollution standards

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The Trump administration announced a plan Tuesday to roll back a major Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule that restricts emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The EPA said its rollback of former President Obama’s 2015 methane regulation for oil and natural gas drillers would give the industry $484 million over six years, while reducing unnecessary and duplicative burdens.

{mosads}The plan is the latest blow to Obama’s aggressive climate change policies, and at least the third major step the EPA has made this year to change the way air pollutants are regulated.

“These common-sense reforms will alleviate unnecessary and duplicative red tape and give the energy sector the regulatory certainty it needs to continue providing affordable and reliable energy to the American people,” acting EPA head Andrew Wheeler said in a statement.

“Removing these excessive regulatory burdens will generate roughly $484 million in cost savings and support increased domestic energy production — a top priority of President Trump,” he said.

Methane is about 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide for global warming, and the rollback would increase emissions by about 380,000 short tons by 2025. It would also increase public exposure to ozone pollution and hazardous air pollutants, the agency said.

Specifics in Tuesday’s proposal aim to streamline the process for oil and gas well regulations and monitoring.

The rule would reduce the frequency of monitoring methane emissions from gas and oil wells from annually to every two years, and compressor stations that are used to help transport natural gas would be monitored just once a year. It would lessen the qualifications for engineers who must certify the emissions-capturing equipment used, open the door to more “alternative” technologies to limit pollution, reduce emissions reporting requirements and exempt many natural gas processing plants from monitoring.

The provisions that weren’t rolled back in Tuesday’s plan could be changed in a future proposal, the agency said.

Trump has promised the change to methane regulations since his 2016 campaign, and the oil and gas industry has made an all-out push to make it a reality.

The two largest contributors of methane are leaks from natural gas systems and the raising of livestock.

The American Petroleum Institute called the rule change a welcomed effort Tuesday, noting that the industry itself has already taken its own strides to cap air pollution.

“Significantly, methane emissions  from the oil and natural gas industry  are already down  14 percent since 1990  while production has increased by 50 percent. Clean natural gas produced through advanced technologies like hydraulic fracturing has helped reduce carbon emissions to 25-year lows,” the group said in a statement. “U.S. air quality continues to improve as the natural gas and oil industry remains committed to reaching our shared goals of protecting public health and the environment while meeting the nation’s energy needs. ”

Some experts anticipate that the new rule would allow for far more air pollution and leaks of the gas stemming from practices known as flaring or fuel burning. That in turn would allow for a dangerous increase in emissions, environmentalists say.

“With this methane safeguard rollback, President Trump’s EPA just sacrificed public health and climate for oil and gas industry profits. And he did so despite some of the world’s largest oil and gas companies endorsing the need for methane rules” Lauren Pagel, policy director at Earthworks, said in a statement.

The EPA first implemented the restrictions in 2016 as part of a crackdown on methane. It was part of Obama’s larger push to mitigate the effects of climate change though implementing a slew of rules including regulations on greenhouse emissions from coal fired plants, tailpipe emissions in cars and other sources.

Democrats reacted negatively to the proposal Tuesday, calling it another of the administration’s attacks on environmental protection.

Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.), ranking member on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, called the rule “unconscionable.”

“EPA’s move to weaken commonsense and cost-effective requirements for oil and gas operations to find and repair leaks in a timely manner undermines critical public health protections from harmful pollutants like methane, benzene and volatile organic compounds,” Pallone said in a statement.

“With this reckless proposed loophole, the Trump Administration is siding with the worst actors in the oil and gas industry and is putting polluter profits ahead of the lives of Americans,” he said.  

The Trump administration earlier this year released proposals that would weaken both the Clean Power Plan and vehicle emissions standards.

In July, EPA signed off on another rule exempting farmers from reporting methane emissions from livestock. The rule came from just passed legislation that exempted farmers from having to report emissions derived from animal waste and other pollutants.

Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management announced in February that it, too, would be looking to roll back a regulation from Obama that sought to limit the amount of methane allowed to be emitted into the air through drilling. While Obama’s EPA rule applied nationally, the Interior standards were targeted to drillers on federal land, with an eye toward reducing waste of a resource owned by taxpayers.

Updated at 1:15 p.m.

Tags Climate change Donald Trump Environmental Protection Agency Frank Pallone Jr. Methane Natural gas oil
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