Democratic senators push EPA to abandon methane rollback

Democratic senators push EPA to abandon methane rollback
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Four Democratic senators are pushing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to abandon a regulatory rollback they say benefits the oil and gas industry.

The agency has twice issued proposals to roll back a 2016 Obama administration rule on methane, a heat trapping gas more potent than carbon that is released during oil and gas production.

The latest proposal, released in August, would eliminate current requirements on oil and gas companies to install technology to monitor methane emissions from pipelines, wells and facilities.

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A letter from Democratic Sens. Sheldon WhitehouseSheldon WhitehouseDemocrats pan Trump's budget proposal as 'dead on arrival' Trump unveils .8 trillion budget that backtracks on deal with Congress End of impeachment trial to leave deep scars in Senate MORE (R.I.), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthJoe Walsh ends GOP primary challenge to Trump Illinois senators meet with Amtrak CEO over ,000 price tag for wheelchair users Democrats ask Amtrak to review policies after wheelchair users quoted K ticket price MORE (Ill.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenSenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules Warren asks for probe of whether Trump violated law by delaying Puerto Rico funds MORE (Md.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleySenate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign Senate Democrats introduce legislation to change impeachment trial rules Hillicon Valley: Facebook suspends misinformation networks targeting US | Lawmakers grill census officials on cybersecurity | Trump signs order to protect GPS | Dem senators propose federal facial recognition moratorium MORE (Ore.) asks the EPA to withdraw the proposal entirety, saying it was unduly influenced by industry.

“There is no substantive difference between an agency explicitly telling a company or industry to write a rule for it, and an agency telling a company or industry it will write whatever rule the company or industry wants. In both cases, the substance is all industry, whatever the letterhead, and the public interest is ignored,” the senators wrote in a letter Thursday. 

The EPA has said the oil and gas industry already has an incentive to capture methane rather than flare it off.  

“EPA’s proposal delivers on President TrumpDonald John TrumpCensus Bureau spends millions on ad campaign to mitigate fears on excluded citizenship question Bloomberg campaign: Primary is two-way race with Sanders Democratic senator meets with Iranian foreign minister MORE’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry," EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerOvernight Energy: Controversial Trump adviser reportedly returning to EPA | Delta aims to be first carbon neutral airline | Dem senator gives EPA D-minus on 'forever chemicals' Architect of controversial EPA policies to return as chief of staff: report Overnight Energy: Green group sues Trump over major environmental rollback | New fuel efficiency standard could take months to complete | Trump unveils picks for EPA, Energy deputies MORE said in a statement when the latest rule was announced, referring to a 2017 order pushing for a review of regulation that “potentially burden” domestic energy production.

“The Trump Administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use. Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15 percent. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.” 

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Oil and gas companies have largely been in support of regulating methane.

The president of BP America, Susan Dio, called methane regulations “the right thing to do for the planet” in a March op-ed.

The 19-page letter from the senators details repeated meetings with industry, including a photo of Wheeler meeting with the coal industry and a breakdown of donations from the oil industry to President Trump’s campaign.

But the senators are mainly concerned the industry cannot be trusted to reduce methane even with profits at stake.

“Reports suggest that even those companies that claim to be committed to reducing methane emissions are among the worst offenders when it comes to venting and flaring methane at oil production facilities,” the letter said.

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EPA said it would respond to the letter through the proper channels.

"All EPA staff, career and political, receive ethics training and continually work with EPA career ethics officials to ensure they are in compliance with all ethics rules and laws to suggest otherwise with no evidence is a shameful accusation,” Michael Abboud, an EPA spokesman, said in an email to The Hill.

Critics of the EPA’s latest rule worry it could hamstring future administrations from taking tougher action on methane.

It’s also weaker than the Obama-era rule it would replace, reducing methane by 370,000 short tons annually, while the 2016 rule would reduce the gas by 500,000 short tons.

Updated at 12:10 p.m.