Biden administration to limit methane, a potent greenhouse gas

Biden administration to limit methane, a potent greenhouse gas

GLASGOW — The Biden administration said on Tuesday it would heavily regulate methane, a potent greenhouse gas released from oil and natural gas activities that could warm the atmosphere 80 times faster than carbon dioxide in the short term.

For the first time, the Environmental Protection Agency plans to limit methane from about a million existing oil and gas rigs in the United States. The federal government previously had rules designed to prevent methane leaks from oil and gas wells built since 2015, but these were repealed by the Trump administration. Biden plans to restore and strengthen them, aides said.

Mr Biden is in Glasgow this week for a United Nations climate summit, where he will try to persuade other countries to cut emissions of fossil fuels that are heating the planet to dangerous levels.

The methane announcement comes at a time when Biden is under intense pressure both internationally and at home to show that the United States, the country that has pumped the most greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, is serious about mitigating climate change.

Biden has set an aggressive target to cut United States emissions by about 50 percent below 2005 levels this decade, but legislation to help him meet that goal has stalled in Congress. The administration leaves that to regulations and other executive measures.

The White House is announcing other new climate initiatives on Tuesday, including a plan to protect tropical forests and an effort to accelerate clean technology, according to senior government officials who briefed journalists Monday.

Central, however, is the proposed regulation on methane. Speaking to world leaders in Glasgow on Monday, Mr Biden said 70 countries had joined a coalition led by the United States and the European Union to cut global methane levels by at least 30 percent by 2030.

“I encourage every nation to sign up,” Mr Biden said, calling it the “single most effective strategy we have for slowing global warming in the short term.”

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and is responsible for more than a quarter of the warming the planet is currently experiencing. It disappears from the atmosphere faster than carbon dioxide, but is more potent at warming the atmosphere in the short term.

An odorless, colorless, flammable gas, methane is produced by landfills, agriculture, livestock, and oil and gas drilling. It is sometimes intentionally burned or vented to the atmosphere during gas production.

As concentrations of methane in the atmosphere have increased, environmentalists have become increasingly concerned about its role in climate change.

According to the EPA, once completed, the regulation will reduce 41 million tons of methane emissions from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent of 920 million tons of carbon dioxide. That’s more than the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by all U.S. passenger cars and commercial aircraft in 2019, the agency said.

“With this landmark move, EPA is addressing existing oil and natural gas industry resources across the country, in addition to updating rules for new wells, to ensure robust and lasting pollution reductions across the country,” the administrator said. of the agency, Michael S. Regan, said in a statement.

But Republicans in Congress said Biden’s promises in Glasgow would hurt Americans at home. “The president wants to end the abundant and affordable U.S. energy resources such as oil, natural gas and coal on which Americans depend,” Wyoming Republican Senator John Barrasso said in a statement. He called the White House’s plans “a recipe for disaster” that would lead to a shortage of affordable energy.

The oil and gas industry is divided on the methane plan.

Karen Harbert, president of the American Gas Association, which represents some of the nation’s largest gas companies, said her group supported new federal regulations, though she noted she hadn’t seen the details.

Ms. Harbert noted that methane emissions from natural gas have fallen by 73 percent since 1990. But, she said, “we recognize that we have to cut the knot to get to that last percentage.” She called regulation “the best possible approach” to create industry-wide standard rules.

However, small oil and gas producers fear that the new rules will impose heavy burdens and cause them to go bankrupt.

The proposed regulations could take some time to be implemented, they are likely to face legal challenges and could be reversed by a future government, observers say.

“If a president tries to use unilateral executive powers, there are immediately a number of hurdles,” said Barry Rabe, a professor of environmental policy at the University of Michigan. “It’s not going to be an easy transition.”

In addition to reducing greenhouse gases, regulating methane will protect public health, EPA officials said.

When methane is released into the atmosphere, it is often accompanied by dangerous chemicals such as benzene and hydrogen sulfide. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked to serious health problems, including asthma and cancer.

Sue Franklin knows the effects first hand. She and her husband, Jim, used to live in the West Texas town of Stories, where oil and gas drilling began around 2014.

Gases leaked from two new sources, causing the couple headaches, nosebleeds and asthma attacks.

The Franklins eventually moved about 40 miles away, but Ms. Franklin, 70, said she feared she would have breathing problems for the rest of her life.

“It never gets better; the damage has been done,” Ms. Franklin said as she and her husband traveled to Washington DC to protest new fossil fuel projects. Ms. Franklin said she thought new regulations for oil and gas wells would help, but only to a degree.

“We were the lucky ones,” she says. “We got out. Other people still live with this. I’d like to see them actually shut down.”

The oil and gas industry is united against a separate attempt in Congress to impose a fee for methane leaks from oil and gas wells as part of a broader budget bill.

The methane tax is intended to both increase revenues and reduce greenhouse pollution. Experts said the two-pronged approach was needed to stop methane emissions.

The compensation would apply to the largest oil and gas companies, which emit more than 25,000 tons of greenhouse gases each year. Those companies would pay $900 per ton of leaked methane from 2024, rising to $1,500 per ton from 2026 to 2030.

Oil and gas producers are lobbying hard to remove the methane tax from legislation pending on Capitol Hill.

Anne Bradbury, chief executive of the American Exploration and Production Council, which represents oil and gas companies, said: “This new, poorly constructed natural gas tax, on top of the regulatory costs imposed by compliance with the upcoming EPA methane rules, would add an additional cost and punitive taxes that would penalize American producers, increase Americans’ energy costs and wipe out 90,000 jobs nationwide.”

Methane regulations have a broken history in Washington.

President Barack Obama first proposed regulations to reduce methane from new and modified gas sources in 2016, and finalized them when he left office. Republicans tried to kill them in 2017 but failed to kill them using an obscure law known as the Congressional Review Act, which allows lawmakers to overturn rules within 60 legislative days of them being passed. to throw.

The Department of the Interior and the EPA repealed Obama’s methane regulations when President Donald J. Trump left office.

In April, Democrats attempted to pass the Congressional Review Act and were successful by voting to assassinate Mr Trump’s rollback.

According to the EPA, the proposed rule will create a monitoring program that requires companies to find and repair methane leaks, often referred to as “volatile emissions,” at new and existing well sites and compressor stations.

Mark Brownstein, a senior vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund, said the technology to reduce methane emissions exists. Operators can install vapor recovery systems in storage tanks, ensure pressure relief valves are not left open, and replace leaking lines.

“This is not about rocket science,” said Mr. Brownstein. “This is auto mechanics.”

Coral Davenport reporting contributed.

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Rachel Meadows

Rachel Meadows

Trending topics news writer who enjoys cooking, walking her dog and travel.

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