Once again, the Trump administration has taken a stand that confounds environmental groups in the form of a plan to ease restrictions on methane gas emissions which result from natural gas production.
- The Trump administration is attempting to roll back federal standards on methane gas emissions.
- In addition to environmental groups opposing the move, big oil has also taken a stand against lifting standards.
- Representatives from the EPA insist the loosening of restrictions won’t make a difference in emission rates.
Specifically, the proposed rule, under the dubious auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), takes aim at federal requirements mandating oil and gas companies to detect and fix methane gas leaks from production to delivery. More than just giving a pass on the leaks, the rule would also allow the government to legally shimmy out of regulating methane altogether.
While carbon dioxide takes most of the spotlight in dangerous emissions, methane is a black hat that’s even worse in the “short term”. According to the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) its environmental impact is 84 times worse than carbon dioxide for the first 20 years and 28 times worse after 100 years.
In a news release from the EPA, Administrator Andrew Wheeler said, “EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry.” He further claims that since 1990 U.S. natural gas production has nearly doubled, while methane emissions across the industry have fallen by nearly 15%.
Technician at a natural gas facility. (Photo: Getty Images)
Opponents fight back
Opponents aren’t taking the Trump administration’s rollbacks laying down. Four big automakers pushed backby agreeing to comply with California’s stricter zero-emissions vehicle policies. In addition, Colorado took the step of becoming the first central state to join California’s Zero-Emissions coalition.
With this next round of attack against methane restrictions, the Natural Resources Defense Council promises to fight back. In a press release, David Doniger, a lawyer with the organization, said, “The Trump E.P.A. is eager to give the oil and gas industry a free pass to keep leaking enormous amounts of climate pollution into the air. If E.P.A. moves forward with this reckless and sinister proposal, we will see them in court.”
This isn’t the first time the Trump administration has placed a target on methane gas emissions. One of the first actions Trump took in office was to go after the regulations put in place by Obama’s administration. In that attempt he failed, when a federal appeals court blocked the move.
Natural gas pipelines. (Photo: Getty Images)
Big oil wants federal restrictions
It might seem surprising that big producers of natural gas, such as Exxon, BP America and Shell are against the EPA eviscerating the restrictions on methane gas emissions. An article in the New York Times quotes Gretchen Watkins, Shell Oil Company’s U.S. President, suggesting the current rules don’t go far enough. She said that the EPA should be more restrictions in place “that will both regulate existing methane emissions but also future methane emissions.”
In an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle, Susan Dio, Chairman and CEO of BP America explained why her company supports restrictions. She noted, “First, it’s the right thing to do for the planet.” She went on to explain that has methane has a shorter lifetime in the atmosphere than carbon dioxide (CO2), but it has higher global warming potential. “So, we must strive to prevent it from escaping into the air.”
Rollbacks could actually hurt the industry
Ben Ratner, a senior director with the Environmental Defense Fund, brings up another good argument to keep a lid on methane. In an article in the New York Times, he said it could present a public relations problem that could undercut the industry. Ratner points out its message that natural gas is a cleaner alternative gets undermined, especially when renewables like solar and wind become more affordable. He concludes, “The reputation of American natural gas is at the precipice, and methane rollbacks are the shove.”
In the same Times article, Anne Idsal, the EPA’s acting clean-air chief, countered that companies can stick to the same methane emissions standards if they wish. “We don’t preclude anybody from going above and beyond if that’s what they think they need to do from a business or compliance standpoint,” she said.
WHY THIS MATTERS
As the Trump administration continues to dismantle EPA restrictions, it keeps tipping the environment toward potential disaster. Idsal’s suggestion that companies can implement stricter emissions policies if they want to is a pretty weak argument. As a rule, companies especially public companies that have a responsibility to shareholders, don’t operate from conscience, but from profits. In order to control emissions, there need to be federal standards and regulations if there’s any hope of healing the earth.