WASHINGTON – The Trump administration is proposing to roll back Obama-era standards on methane emissions, a greenhouse gas that significantly contributes to climate change.
Environmental Protection Agency officials unveiled the proposal Thursday, saying the elimination of “inappropriate regulatory duplication” would save the oil and gas industry – and, in turn, consumers – millions of dollars a year.
But the proposal, which will be open to public comment for 60 days, was immediately denounced by environmental groups, public health organizations and Democratic lawmakers as an industry-friendly sop whose effects would pose global harm.
“Last month the planet experienced its hottest month in recorded history,” said Rep. Don Beyer, D-Va., who co-chairs the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus. “The threat of climate change to human life and livelihoods has never been clearer, and yet the Trump Administration is acting to allow an increase in the dangerous emissions which cause it.”
Thursday’s announcement is the latest in a series of steps the administration has been taking over the past two years to roll back environmental rules that it views as obstacles to domestic energy production, particularity relating to fossil fuels.
President Donald Trump, who has questioned the science behind climate change despite overwhelming scientific consensus, has move forward to reverse Obama’s efforts to address global warming, including the withdrawal from the Paris accord, the scrapping of the Clean Power Plan and efforts to reduce auto missions.
The EPA proposal would remove the requirements imposed under the Obama administration to reduce the amount of methane leaking from the production, transportation and storage of oil and gas.
Anne Idsal, acting Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation, said methane would still be regulated through the agency’s Volatile Organic Compounds standards and that the standards being dismantled offered “minimal environmental benefit.”
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Idsal said the proposal rollback was in response to the president’s 2017 executive order promoting energy independence and economic growth which directed agencies to review and rescind regulations that “unduly burden” domestic energy production.
“So that is exactly what we’re doing today with the proposal that is being rolled out,” she told reporters on a conference call.
Methane is released during the production and transport of coal, natural gas and oil. It can also be emitted from livestock and other agricultural practices and by the decay of organic waste in municipal solid waste landfills.
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Although methane accounted for only 10% of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions in 2017, scientists consider it 25 times more potent than carbon dioxide (which made up 82% of all emissions) to global warming.
Environmental activist Bill McKibben, who formed the organization 350 to end the planet’s dependence on fossil fuels, derided the announcement on Twitter as “insane.”
It’s unclear what practical effect the new proposal would have.
Methane emissions have been on the decline in recent years and some of the nation’s largest oil companies, including Exxon, BP and Shell, indicated they have little interest in reversing that trend since methane leaks cost companies in reduced fuel.
“We believe sound environmental policies are foundation to the vital role natural gas will play in the energy transition.” Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins tweeted.
Don Santa, president and CEO of the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America, said companies have been working to reduce methane emissions because they view it as “socially and environmentally responsible, and good business for natural gas transmission and storage companies.”