Relaxation in the regulation of methane emissions, a major contributor to climate change, is a far-reaching plan laid out on Thursday by the Trump administration.
The federal requirements of installing technology to detect and fix methane leaks from pipelines, wells, and storage facilities by the oil and gas companies aimed to be eliminated by the Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed rule. Does E.P.A. have the legal authority for regulating Methane as a pollutant? The question reopens.
As major energy companies along with automakers, electric utilities, and other industrial giants, have spoken out against it making the rollback plan notable and that have opposed other administration initiatives to knock down climate-change and environmental rules.
The environmental-policy rollbacks that are designed to loosen industry regulations by the Trump administration now include the weakening of the methane standard.
Mr Trump is looking for opening millions of acres of public land and water to drilling, including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and has lifted an Obama-era moratorium for new coal mining leases on public land. A plan to weaken the Endangered Species Act has been completed by the Interior Department this month. The E.P.A. also plans to roll back regulations of clean-water affecting streams and wetlands later this year.
In response to President Trump’s calls to trim regulations obstructing economic growth or keeping the nation reliant on energy imports, the new methane rule would replace one from the Obama administration, E.P.A. officials said. The plan “removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” said the E.P.A. administrator, Andrew Wheeler. “The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use.”
As Mr Wheeler noted, since 1990, the production of natural gas has almost doubled in the United States. However, methane emissions across the industry have reduced 15 percent.
According to Anne Idsal, the agency’s acting senior clean-air official, elimination of the Obama-era rules would have “minimal environmental benefits.”
“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,” said David Doniger, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “If E.P.A. moves forward with this reckless and sinister proposal, we will see them in court.”
As per the proposal, the main component of natural gas, Methane, would be only indirectly regulated. Under the new rule, a separate but related category of gases, known as volatile organic compounds, would remain regulated, and the side benefit of those curbs would be averting some methane emissions.
Analysts said that the new rule is most likely to be finalized early next year after going through a period of public review and comment.
The most significant greenhouse gas is carbon dioxide, and Methane is a close second. It lingers for a shorter period in the atmosphere but while it lasts, packs a bigger punch. By some estimates, the heat-trapping power of Methane is 80 times of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years in the atmosphere.
Currently, in the United States, nearly 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions are contributed by Methane, and a significant portion of that comes from the oil and gas industry. Cattle and agriculture are the other sources.
As per the estimation of the E.P.A.’s economic analysis of the rule, the oil and natural gas industry would save $17 million to $19 million a year when compared to its annual revenue between $100 billion and $150 billion.
Since Mr Trump’s earliest days in office, methane regulation of the Obama administration has been a target. In March 2017, the then E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, tried to suspend the law while the agency considered an alternative; however, a federal appeals court ruled the move unlawful.
The scientific consensus on the contribution of human activities to climate change has been repeatedly dismissed by President Trump even though the federal government’s scientists have warned about the damage already caused to the United States’ economy because of global warming.
The 2018 National Climate Assessment drew a conclusion that the greenhouse gases caused warming which has already led to devastating wildfires and crop failures, among other things, and this kind of effects could knock up to 10 percent off the size of the American economy by the end of the century.
Erik Milito, Vice President at the American Petroleum Institute, a trade group representing the oil and gas industry, praising the new rule, says, “We think it’s a smarter way of targeting methane emissions.”
However, many biggest oil and gas companies have called on the Trump administration to tighten restrictions on Methane instead of loosening them. It was smaller companies that pursued weakening of the rules, arguing that leak inspections were too costly.