Energy & Environment

Biden rallies nations to cut methane emissions


The Biden administration is seeking to mobilize the world to curb methane emissions, using domestic policies and global pledges to combat the climate-warming gas.

World leaders announced Tuesday that 100 countries are now backing an effort led by the United States and the European Union to cut global methane emissions by 30 percent.

Meanwhile, the U.S. also announced new regulations for its domestic oil and gas production. 

“One of the most important things we can do in this decisive decade … to keep 1.5 degrees in reach is reduce our methane emissions as quickly as possible,” President Biden said during remarks at the U.N. climate summit in Glasgow, referring to a goal to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

That pledge would aim to cut global methane emissions 30 percent by 2030, but individual countries aren’t necessarily held responsible for reducing their own emissions by that quantity. 

Instead, Special Climate Envoy John Kerry said last month that “every country will do what it can in order to be able to reduce methane emissions.”

While there is no enforcement mechanism to hold countries to the pledge, some advocates remain optimistic that it will help reduce methane emissions.

“I think there’s a good chance they will meet it and I think it’s because the climate crisis has become more urgent and more center-stage over the last couple of years,” said Dan Grossman, associate vice president of the global energy transition at the Environmental Defense Fund. 

He added that the onus is on developed countries in particular, saying “there is an expectation and an obligation that they do as much as they possibly can to compensate for economies that may not have as much flexibility.”

Biden, in remarks Tuesday morning, called the pledge “game-changing.”

“This is going to make a huge difference. And not just when it comes to fighting climate change,” he said, referring also to health benefits and economic benefits of ensuring that gas doesn’t leak out.

The initiative comes as the U.S. attempts to more broadly reassert its leadership on climate change following former President Trump’s inaction on the issue and his withdrawal from the global Paris Agreement.

The Biden administration has signaled it intends to take action on a number of regulations as Democrats in Congress face headwinds in their efforts to pass climate legislation, stoking uncertainty over whether they can advance significant proposals.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week proposed a new rule aimed at new and existing sources of methane pollution from the oil and gas sector. The EPA said it will cut methane emissions from regulated entities by 74 percent compared to 2005 levels. 

For the first time, the administration is taking on existing sources of methane pollution from the oil and gas industry by requiring states to develop guidelines that restrict the release or burn off of excess gas — processes known as venting and flaring. 

Venting and flaring release methane since that substance is the main component of natural gas.

Darin Schroeder, associate attorney at the Clean Air Task Force, said it was a big deal that the agency was cutting methane from existing operations, which make up most of the oil and gas industry, but said the agency could have gone even further. 

“Proposing some existing source guidelines is a really big step forward because that’s where most of the emissions are: from facilities that are existing today,” Schroeder said. 

The agency is also adding more regulations on new facilities — like requiring certain technologies used by the industry to be non-emitting. 

Previous regulations on new facilities were rolled back by the Trump administration but restored earlier this year through a disapproval resolution passed by Congress and signed by Biden.

The EPA’s latest action has not drawn much pushback from industry advocates. BP released a statement saying it “applauds” the move, while some trade groups gave more tepid responses, saying they support methane regulations and would look into the action.

The announcement comes as part of a methane plan from the agency, which also aims to tackle methane through other agencies and from other parts of the economy. 

It said, for example, that the Bureau of Land Management will eventually seek to put royalty fees on vented and flared gas in order to curb the practices. 

But, where it uses a regulatory approach for oil and gas, it uses a voluntary approach for agriculture — disappointing some advocates. 

“They need to start with setting a pathway toward regulation,” said Ben Lilliston, director of climate change and rural strategies at the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy. 

“I think it would immediately have an impact and people thinking differently about raising animals and the best system to do so,” Lilliston said of regulations on the agricultural industry. 

The agricultural industry is the largest U.S. methane source when livestock and manure emissions are counted together. 

But the regulations come as the White House struggles to get its climate agenda across the finish line in Congress — suggesting it may need to focus more on regulatory action.

While the agency was widely expected to regulate methane emissions from existing sources, the rule happens to come as a congressional proposal to cut additional methane emissions is at risk.

One area that Democrats are wrangling over is whether — and how — to limit methane emissions from oil and gas, having pitched a fee on emissions that met resistance from key swing vote Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

In a recent House proposal, Democrats pitched both fees on the releases and incentives to cut them through $775 million for grants, rebates, contracts and loans. 

Nevertheless, Grossman, with the Environmental Defense Fund, said he believes that regulation is the best way to tackle methane from oil and gas. 

“I think the rules are the primary strategy, and rightfully so,” he said.

Tags Climate change Donald Trump greenhouse gases Joe Biden Joe Manchin John Kerry Methane methane emissions

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