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 rip Barr over IG statement: 'Mouthpiece' for Trump Trump brings pardoned soldiers on stage at Florida fundraiser: report Overnight Energy: Pelosi vows bold action to counter 'existential' climate threat | Trump jokes new light bulbs don't make him look as good | 'Forever chemicals' measure pulled from defense bill MORE (R.I.), Tammy DuckworthLadda (Tammy) Tammy DuckworthLawmakers call for investigation into program meant to help student loan borrowers with disabilities Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Democratic senators push EPA to abandon methane rollback MORE (Ill.), Chris Van HollenChristopher (Chris) Van HollenGOP senator blocks bill aimed at preventing Russia election meddling Democrats rip Barr over IG statement: 'Mouthpiece' for Trump The Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment MORE (Md.) and Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyMcConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Warren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre 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 TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - House panel expected to approve impeachment articles Thursday Democrats worried by Jeremy Corbyn's UK rise amid anti-Semitism Warren, Buttigieg duke it out in sprint to 2020 MORE’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry," EPA Administrator Andrew WheelerAndrew WheelerEPA to resume contract negotiations with employee union Overnight Energy: Critics call EPA air guidance 'an industry dream' | New Energy secretary says Trump wants to boost coal | EPA looks to speed approval of disputed industry pollution permits Latest EPA guidance weakens air protections in favor of industry, critics say 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.