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EPA Wants to Delay Methane Rules for Two Years

When the Obama administration’s methane rule became final in May 2016, it was heralded as a cutting edge way to limit methane emissions from oil and gas operations while also giving drillers the incentive to capture and sell that fuel to manufacturers and chemical makers. Now, Trump’s EPA wants to delay that rule for two years.

The oil and gas industry is objecting to the current rule, saying that it is expensive and that it duplicates state laws.  Furthermore, the American Petroleum Institute pointed to a study by EPA that said methane emissions have been falling, making the trade group question why the new rules have even been necessary. The report released in March shows that methane emissions from all petroleum systems decreased by 28 percent since 1990. EPA attributed this improvement to decreases in emissions from associated gas venting and flaring.

The methane rules were part of the Obama administration’s overall effort to cut the level of methane gas emissions by 40-45 percent by the year 2025, from 2012 levels. If escaping natural gas could be captured and resold, industry could increase its revenues by as much as $188 million a year, it added.

According to scientists, methane is 72 times as powerful as carbon dioxide when it comes to trapping heat, although it dissipates after 20 years whereas the carbon dioxide stays active for 100 years.

Tuesday’s announcement by Trump’s EPA is not necessarily a surprise given that the current EPA Administrator Scott Pruit said he had wanted to give this ruling a thorough review.

But EPA can’t just delay a rule. The idea has to go out for comment and any ruling that would change the course of the ruling — a two-year delay, for instance — would be subject to lawsuits. In this case, there is a 30-day comment period. And already, environmental groups are suing to prevent a delay.

Meantime, the US Department of Interior now says that it will try and throw out or delay such rules in federal land though regulatory means — something that Congress just recently failed to achieve. 

It was also one of those of those rules that fell under the Congressional Review Act, which allows an incoming presidential administration to wipe out legislatively any rule from a prior administration that had been enacted in its waning days. To that end, the Trump administration had been able to take off the books a handful of such rules, including one to allow coal companies an easier time to dump their debris in nearby streams. All it takes is a simple majority in both chambers as opposed to a 60-vote filibuster proof majority in the Senate.

Donald Trump’s Interior Department will “suspend, revise or rescind given its significant regulatory burden that encumbers American energy production, economic growth and job creation,” Kate MacGregor, Interior’s acting secretary for land and minerals said, in a statement.

“The rule is expected to have real and harmful impacts on onshore energy development and could impact state and local jobs and revenue,” MacGregor added. “Small independent oil and gas producers in states like North Dakota, Colorado and New Mexico, which account for a substantial portion of our nation’s energy wealth, could be hit the hardest.”

Altogether, roughly 375 billion cubic feet of methane has entered the atmosphere over five years, ending 2014, Obama’s Interior Department said. If that methane was captured and resold, it could not just cut the level of heat-trapping emissions but it could also go to productive use by helping heat homes and businesses.

A General Accountability Office study said that 40 percent of that could be captured, meaning that investments in current technologies could easily pay off.

“The U.S. oil and gas industry pumps out almost 10 million metric tons of methane pollution a year from thousands of sites in communities all across the nation,” adds Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund. “It’s a tremendous threat to our climate, and a needless waste of valuable resources. Cutting this pollution is the fastest, cheapest path to slow the warming we will otherwise see in the next 20 years.”

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