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EPA to lift Obama-Era controls of methane, a potent greenhouse gas

WASHINGTON – In the coming days, the Trump administration is expected to lift Obama-era controls on the release of methane, a powerful global warming gas emitted from leaks and torches in oil and gas wells.

The new methane pollution rule, issued by the Environmental Protection Agency, has been expected for months and will be announced before Friday, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke anonymously to avoid publicly anticipating the official announcement.

The replay of the methane rule is the latest step in the Trump administration’s ongoing efforts to weaken environmental standards, which have continued without delay during the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, the EPA weakened the rules for emissions of toxic chemicals from coal-fired power plants, loosened curbs on global warming pollution of pipelines and chose not to strengthen a regulation on industrial soot emissions linked to respiratory diseases, including Covid-19.

In July, President Trump unilaterally weakened one of the country’s conservation laws, the National Environmental Policy Act, which restricted public scrutiny of federal infrastructure projects in an effort to speed up the permitting process for highways, power plants and pipelines.

However, this and all the other legislative changes proposed by the Trump administration in the latter half of 2020 can be quickly undone in the first half of 2021, if, as opinion polls now suggest, Joseph R. Biden Jr. The White House wins and the Democrats take control of the Senate. This is due to a Senate procedure known as the Congress Review Act, which gives lawmakers 60 legislative days to overturn major new ordinances issued by federal authorities. In the early days of Trump, Republicans used the procedure to undo 14 Obama-era rules.

The EPA’s new methane rule eliminates federal requirements that oil and gas companies must install technology to detect and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage sites.

EPA officials say the new, weaker methane rule is needed to free the oil and gas industry from what they call crushing regulations at a time when companies are suffering from falling prices and falling demand is driven by a sharp global economic downturn. However, the rule has been weakened for more than a year.

Environmentalists called Trump a new blow to the planet’s global warming climate, which comes behind the reversal of the rules for global warming carbon dioxide pollution from back pipes and power plants, and the US withdrawal from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Oil and gas companies have had mixed responses to the return. Some large companies have spoken out against the weakening of the methane regulations – joining certain car manufacturers, electricity companies and other industrial giants who have opposed other administrative initiatives to phase out climate change and environmental regulations.

But smaller independent oil companies are expected to applaud the rule as a welcome measure when many are struggling to stay afloat.

Most climate change regulations target carbon dioxide, which is produced by burning fossil fuels and is the most harmful greenhouse gas. Methane, which is a close second, remains in the atmosphere for a shorter time but packs a larger punch while it lasts. According to some estimates, methane has 80 times the heat source of carbon dioxide during the first 20 years in the atmosphere.

Methane currently accounts for almost 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. A significant part of this comes from the oil and gas industry, although other sources include cattle and agriculture.

In August, EPA chief Andrew Wheeler published a draft methane rule, saying it “removes unnecessary and duplicate regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry.”

Peter Zalzal, a lawyer at the Environmental Protection Fund, a group of lawyers, called the new rule “a deeply misleading measure” which “is clearly inconsistent with the agency’s legal obligations and with science showing that methane is a dangerous pollutant.”

Lee Fuller, vice president of Independent Petroleum Producers of America, which represents smaller oil and gas companies, said that “the burden of the rule falls overwhelmingly on smaller, independent companies.”

“They have a rule that was written for all these big companies,” Fuller said. “They would basically continue to do what they are already doing now. But these small businesses – that rule would only kill them. “

Several of the largest oil and gas companies have called on the Trump administration to tighten restrictions on methane, not to loosen them. Larger energy companies have invested millions of dollars to promote natural gas as a cleaner alternative to coal in the country’s power plants, as natural gas produces about half as much carbon dioxide when burned. They fear that unlimited leaks of methane could undermine that marketing message and hurt demand.

In a public comment from 2019 on a draft of the rule, Joe Ellis, Vice President of BP, called on the EPA “to continue to regulate methane emissions from new sources and to adopt a rule for existing sources. EPA regulation of methane throughout the value chain is the right thing to do for the environment, will support consistent regulation in the United States and can be achieved cost-effectively with new technology. “

Exxon urged the EPA 2018 to maintain core issues in the Obama administration’s policies. Gretchen Watkins, US chair of Shell, who has called on the Trump administration to regulate methane emissions, said: “The negative effects of methane have been recognized for many years this year, so it’s frustrating and disappointing to see the administration go in a different direction. “.

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