Nov 02, 2021
Environmentalists warned Tuesday that the Biden administration's newly unveiled rules targeting methane emissions aren't strong enough to sufficiently curb one of the most potent contributors to the global climate crisis.
"Swiftly reducing methane emissions will result in significant and much-needed near-term climate progress."
While welcoming the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules as a significant improvement over Obama-era regulations that were gutted by former President Donald Trump, Earthworks said in a statement that they "do not go far enough to address pollution from unlit flares"--a major source of methane emissions--"or require frequent enough inspections of covered sources."
"In a Biden-declared climate 'code red,' his administration needs to use the full power of the Clean Air Act to cut methane pollution from oil and gas production without industry exemptions," said Lauren Pagel, Earthworks' policy director. "Climate justice during a climate emergency means using every tool in the toolbox including not just a stronger rule, but also declaring a National Emergency on climate change."
Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, argued that "the best regulation against methane emissions is to ban fracking and prohibit the use of methane in heating of newly constructed buildings"--steps President Joe Biden has thus far refused to take.
"In addition, the federal government should be working to retrofit existing buildings to eliminate the use of methane," said Jones. "Further, President Biden should use his executive authority to stop the buildout of new gas infrastructure, ban the export of [liquefied natural gas], and stop fracking, and the extraction of fossil fuel on federal lands as he promised during the campaign."
The EPA said in a press release that its new proposal would--among other changes--establish a "comprehensive monitoring program" for new and existing oil and gas well sites, impose "standards to eliminate venting of associated gas," and "require capture and sale of gas where a sales line is available." The agency estimated the new regulations could cut U.S. methane emissions by 41 million tons from 2023 to 2035.
According to the Washington Post, the proposed regulations were developed with input from the fossil fuel industry, which "has been working with Biden officials since the presidential transition to help craft the EPA requirements."
The EPA unveiled the proposed rules amid the ongoing COP26 climate talks in Glasgow, Scotland, where world leaders are meeting to discuss the international response to the intensifying planetary emergency--including coordinated action to reduce the amount of methane released into the atmosphere by the fossil fuel industry and other sectors.
On Tuesday, the Biden administration said that nearly 90 countries have joined a pact to cut methane emissions at least 30% by 2030 from 2020 levels.
"The Global Methane Pledge, which was first announced in September, now includes half of the top 30 methane emitters accounting for two-thirds of the global economy," Reuters reported. "Among the new signatories that will be announced on Tuesday is Brazil--one of the world's five biggest emitters of methane. China, Russia, and India, also top-five methane emitters, have not signed on to the pledge."
The United States is the second-largest emitter of methane in the world behind Russia, according to the International Energy Agency. The oil and gas industry in the U.S. has long been accused of dramatically underreporting its methane emissions, which are roughly 87 times more potent than carbon dioxide emissions over a 20-year period.
"Pledges are just words on a page without concrete action to make them real."
Pagel said Tuesday that the Global Methane Pledge is "important because the world's nations are acknowledging methane pollution is a globally important issue."
"But our field inspections of oil and gas operations prove that pledges are just words on a page without concrete action to make them real," she added. "In the United States, President Biden can do this by strengthening the EPA oil and gas methane rule proposed today, and by declaring a National Emergency on climate to help usher in the clean energy transition that is needed to meet the climate commitments we have made to the world."
In its landmark report released in August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimated that atmospheric methane levels are currently higher than they've been in at least the past 800,000 years.
Julie McNamara, deputy policy director of the Climate and Energy Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in a statement Tuesday that the Biden administration's proposed rules "represent essential progress and long-demanded action to rein in methane emissions from oil and gas operations."
"For too long, we've known the damaging impacts of this potent heat-trapping pollutant, known that oil and gas operations continue to be a major source of it, and known that solutions to drive rapid reductions across the sector already exist--yet still, oil and gas operations continue to release untenably high and entirely preventable methane emissions," said McNamara. "Swiftly reducing methane emissions will result in significant and much-needed near-term climate progress."
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