The Biden administration is announcing a broad strategy to cut methane emissions, a powerful greenhouse gas that contributes considerably to global warming and has a bigger short-term impact than even carbon dioxide.
President Joe Biden unveiled the idea on Tuesday as he wrapped off a two-day speech at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, Scotland. During the meeting, Biden vowed to work with the European Union and other governments to cut global methane emissions by 30% by 2030.
One of Biden’s first executive orders lays out a long-awaited rule by the Environmental Protection Agency to tighten methane controls for the oil and gas sector.
For the first time, the proposed rule would focus on existing oil and gas wells across the country, rather than just new wells, as past rules have done.
The new regulation, issued under the Clean Air Act, would result in significant reductions in methane emissions and other pollutants, according to EPA Administrator Michael Regan, and will be harsher than an Obama-era threshold set in 2016. In a rare attempt by majority Democrats to utilize the legislative branch to undo a regulatory rollback under President Donald Trump, Congress reinstated the Obama norm last summer.
“As the world’s leaders gather in Glasgow for COP26, it is evident that America is back and leading by example in facing the climate issue with strong ambition,” Regan said, referring to the climate summit.
The EPA’s “historic move” would “guarantee substantial and long-term pollution reductions across the country,” according to Regan. According to him, the new regulation would safeguard communities near oil and gas installations while also advancing the United States’ climate goals under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
The oil and natural gas sector is the country’s greatest industrial emitter of methane, a very harmful pollutant that accounts for roughly one-third of current warming caused by human activity.
Other dangerous air pollutants generated by the oil and gas industry include volatile molecules that contribute to ground-level ozone, or smog, and air poisons like benzene that are emitted with methane.
Methane reduction, according to environmental groups, is the quickest and most cost-effective way to decrease global warming. Current regulations for methane emissions from US oil and gas wells only apply to sources built or modified after 2015, leaving roughly 90% of the country’s approximately 900,000 well sites uncontrolled.
The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s leading lobbying group, has stated that it favors direct regulation of methane emissions from new and current sources, but opposes proposals in Congress to levy penalties on methane leaks, which it calls punitive and wasteful. Even though natural gas output has increased as a result of the current fracking boom, the industry claims that methane leaks, the major component of natural gas, have reduced. In recent years, technological improvements have made identifying and correcting natural gas leaks cheaper and easier.
The Transportation Department’s new safety standards will strengthen restrictions for methane leaks from the nation’s 3 million miles of pipes, according to the administration’s proposal.
Meanwhile, the Interior Department is poised to take action against methane waste burnt at drilling sites on public lands. Furthermore, the Agriculture Department is collaborating with farmers to develop “climate-smart” regulations to track and minimize greenhouse gas emissions while also increasing carbon storage.
According to a senior administration official, the strategy focuses on reducing pollution from the main sources of methane emissions and employs financial incentives, public transparency, and private partnerships to decrease leaks and waste, safeguard workers and communities, and generate union-friendly employment. The official requested anonymity because he or she was not permitted to talk before the measures were made public.
Biden has previously stated that he intends to increase efforts to plug aging gas well leaks and clean up abandoned coal mines. The Senate just enacted a bipartisan infrastructure measure that includes billions to restore abandoned mining sites and limit orphaned wells.
The administration is also targeting landfill methane emissions, with a focus on food loss and waste, which is a big source. The EPA has set a voluntary target of collecting 70% of methane emissions from landfills in the United States.