On Thursday, the Trump administration announced plans to roll back an Obama-era regulation to cut methane emissions from power plants and fossil fuel infrastructure.
Anne Idsal, the acting assistant administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), told the Wall Street Journal which broke the news, that administration questions whether methane “should have been regulated in the first place.” If the rollback goes through, it could have consequences well beyond methane.
The administration has been trying to overturn regulations affecting the dangerous greenhouse gas since Donald Trump entered the White House. The president, first, delayed the Obama rule and changed some technical aspects of it. The administration also went to court over it. So far, these efforts have failed. But this is his administration’s first attempt to completely kill the rule through a formal proposal.
Methane is a greenhouse gas that doesn’t get nearly as much attention as its close relative, carbon dioxide. But methane is some bad stuff, with 36 times the global warming potential as carbon dioxide over a 100-year timeframe. Despite that, the Trump administration is working tirelessly to remove regulations that would limit how much methane ends up in the Earth’s atmosphere.
The proposal to rollback the rules argues that the EPA doesn’t have authority under the Clean Air Act to regulate methane emissions from new and modified oil and gas operations, Joe Goffman, former EPA staff and current executive director of Harvard’s Environmental and Energy Law Program, told Earther. That means if the rule change goes through, any future attempts to regulate the greenhouse gas will meet major hurdles in the courtroom.
“This is part of the broader methodical process by which the EPA is gutting the Clean Air Act authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions,” he told Earther. “This actually attacks the very foundation of the 2016 methane standards and, by the same token, any future existing source of methane emissions.”
States like New York and Vermont weren’t happy last time about delays to the rule’s implementation and sued the administration. They’re sure to not be any happier with the latest. The protections Obama passed require new technologies on power plants and fossil fuel industry polluters so that methane doesn’t leak out of the facilities. The only emissions the EPA is interested in limiting is volatile organic compounds, which can spur health issues in people who breathe it.
The EPA’s excuse for removing limits on methane is that, well, if it keeps limiting these compounds, methane emissions should go down, too, Idsal noted in a press call. However, the new proposal targets very specific pieces of equipment at these oil and gas facilities that won’t reduce methane emissions nearly as much as the 2016 rule did.
Some big fossil fuel companies like Shell also supported the Obama regulations. Why? Largely due to their bottom line. All this leaking methane is money lost. The methane that leaks is gas that can be sold to heat homes.
While the fossil fuel industry is looking at the dollar signs, the rest of us should be looking at our changing climate. The world is at a point where drastic action is needed to avoid the worst impacts. We’re already seeing record-breaking heatwaves. The worst is yet to come if we don’t get our shit together.
“The Trump Administration’s decision to deregulate methane will endanger American lives,” said Rep. Don Beyer of Virginia, who co-chairs the Congressional Safe Climate Caucus, in an email statement. “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.”
All these emissions aren’t just bad news for the planet; they’re bad news for the health of people living near the polluting facilities. Methane isn’t the only substance coming out of these plants. There’s benzene and particulate matter, both of which damage our bodies. Any reduction in methane would help reduce these emissions, too. The proposal will face a 60-day public comment period, and critics will be sure to voice their concerns.