A gas flare

A gas flare from the Shell Chemical LP petroleum refinery illuminates the sky on August 21, 2019 in Norco, Louisiana.

(Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Green Groups Tell Biden to Stop Approving Fossil Fuel Projects If He Really Wants to Cut Methane

"Promoting more fracking and increasing fossil fuel exports are not the actions of an administration that is serious about climate," said one activist.

As the Biden administration on Wednesday convened the first-ever White House Methane Summit, advocacy groups stressed that actually combating the potent pollutant's significant contribution to the global climate emergency requires ditching fossil fuels.

Methane—the main component of "natural" gas—is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide during its first two decades in the atmosphere and is responsible for nearly a third of global warming since the Industrial Revolution. Months after taking office, U.S. President Joe Biden and the European Union launched an international pledge to cut methane emissions by at least 30% by 2030.

In line with that pledge—and the president's broader goal to at least halve all U.S. planet-heating emissions by the end of this decade, relative to 2005 levels—the Biden administration on Wednesday announced the creation of a new Cabinet-level Methane Task Force. The summit also focused on efforts to mitigate and detect emissions, including from super-emitting events.

"While reducing methane will buy the world more time to address the climate crisis, only a rapid transition to renewable energy will stave off the worst effects of climate disaster."

The White House fact sheet for the summit highlights a new BlueGreen Alliance analysis that found fully adopting the administration's "proposed leak-reducing actions will create 10,000 net direct and indirect jobs each year, in sectors like manufacturing, construction, and operations and maintenance."

While some campaigners and experts praised or even participated in the White House's summit, green groups also emphasized that the administration is not doing nearly enough to tackle methane problems, and is contributing to it by supporting fossil fuel pipelines, liquefied natural gas (LNG) exports, and new leasing public lands—which Biden, as a candidate, had pledged to end.

"The importance of President Biden making it a major priority of his administration to cut oil and gas methane pollution cannot be understated," said Earthworks policy director Lauren Pagel. "The harms to climate and the health of communities on the frontline of oil and gas extraction are nothing short of dire. This administration is right to harness more of its existing resources to reduce oil and gas air pollution."

"However, it must move forward with more accountability for industry and the inclusion of environmental justice communities as stakeholders," she continued. "More broadly, missing in the president's announcement is acknowledgment of what climate science clearly shows. There is no climate fix without stopping fossil fuel expansion. While reducing methane will buy the world more time to address the climate crisis, only a rapid transition to renewable energy will stave off the worst effects of climate disaster."

Pagel concluded that "the administration's commitment to methane reduction is important. But in order to live up to President Biden's climate and justice goals, he must declare a climate emergency and stop the buildout of fossil fuel infrastructure."

During his presidency and particularly amid recent extreme heat, Biden—who is seeking reelection next year—has faced pressure to declare a climate emergency, which would unlock certain powers to confront the crisis. Among the groups pushing for such a declaration is Food & Water Watch, which responded critically to Biden's latest moves on the "climate super pollutant" methane.

"If the White House is serious about reducing methane pollution, it should implement policies that would have immediate impact—banning fracking and prohibiting the use of methane for heating in new construction," said the group's executive director, Wenonah Hauter.

"President Biden should also use his executive authority to stop the buildout of new gas infrastructure, ban the export of methane in the form of liquefied natural gas, and stop fracking on federal lands as he promised during the campaign," she added. "The White House could also take steps to transition away from the destructive factory farm model that harms the environment and drives up methane emissions."

Hauter charged that "so far, White House policies have bolstered the interests of corporate polluters by dramatically increasing fossil fuel permits and aggressively promoting the growth of fracked gas exports—a catastrophic move that will increase methane pollution and keep countries hooked on fossil fuels for decades."

"Promoting more fracking and increasing fossil fuel exports are not the actions of an administration that is serious about climate," she argued. "President Biden should live up to his campaign promise to stop fracking on public lands, and he must stop approving new gas export schemes that pose threats to our air, water, and climate. These are concrete steps that would cut methane pollution; everything else is window dressing."

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