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Trump administration rolls back methane pollution regulations

The EPA will reverse Obama-era standards intended to curb leaks of the potent gas that contributes to the climate crisis.


This article was originally published by the Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The Trump administration is rolling back requirements that oil and gas drillers correct leaks of methane – a potent heat-trapping pollutant contributing to the climate crisis.

The Environmental Protection Agency announced the proposal on Thursday, against the wishes of some major oil companies.

Trump will reverse standards issued by Barack Obama that forced companies to install controls to curb methane releases from drilling operations, pipelines and storage facilities. The EPA is claiming the changes would save the oil and gas industry $17 million to $19 million a year, or up to $123 million by 2025.

Agency administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former energy lobbyist, said methane is valuable so industry already has an incentive to minimize leaks. He called existing rules “unnecessary and duplicative.”

The Trump administration has moved to erase all of Obama’s climate policies and to ease other pollution controls for oil, gas and coal companies. Not all of industry has supported those changes. For example, car companies are currently pushing back against a weakening of mileage standards.

An oil and gas company flares excess gas in northeast Colorado. The Trump administration is easing emissions controls on methane releases from drilling operations, pipelines and storage facilities.

The advocacy group the Clean Air Task Force said the EPA is ignoring decades of its own precedent and mountains of evidence that cutting methane is easy and extremely important.

“If the EPA manages to finalize and implement this illegal proposal, it will have devastating impacts on our climate for years to come,” said the group’s attorney Darin Schroeder.

He said the EPA’s methane rollbacks will lead to industry “dumping an additional 1.2 million tons of methane into the air in 2025 – which will warm the planet as much as the pollution from 22 million cars.”

Janet McCabe, a top air official under Obama, noted that methane has about 25 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. Its impacts could be even larger. And methane makes up about 10% of warming pollutants in the U.S.

A study by the advocacy group the Environmental Defense Fund also argues the oil and gas industry is releasing more methane than is reported.

McCabe said the rule changes are a “rejection of the vast – the increasing – body of science that shows that climate change is affecting humans around the globe”. She said the rule changes would make regulations more uncertain for companies.

Some of the companies that have already made investments in eliminating their methane leaks agreed.

The oil trade group the American Petroleum Institute supports the rollback, but Exxon, Shell and BP have spoken in favor of restrictions. Smaller oil producers say the Obama standards would be too expensive and would make it hard for them to compete with the majors.

The API argues that nixing the rules will “strengthen emissions standards” by reducing duplication with existing state programs, providing clarity for industry and making it easier for operators to use “new, innovative technologies.”


Congressman Don Beyer, a Democrat from Virginia, said it should be telling that the industry itself is split over the changes.

“Last month the planet experienced its hottest month in recorded history. The threat of climate change to human life and livelihoods has never been clearer, and yet the Trump administration is acting to allow an increase in the dangerous emissions which cause it,” Beyer said.

Emily Holden is an environment reporter for Guardian US. Email High Country News at [email protected] or submit a letter to the editor.