The EPA is OK with monster greenhouse gases

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8 mins read

It’s amazing, but the Trump administration has this fall undertaken its seventh attempt to undermine or destroy 2016 regulations designed to curtail emissions of methane, a monster greenhouse gas, into our atmosphere. 

The six efforts, to date, have met with mixed results with some proposals having been implemented, some under challenge, and some simply slapped down in the courts.

But, those six efforts were foreplay. The seventh, if successful, will totally eliminate EPA’s methane standards for new oil and gas equipment PLUS remove all other pollution-control standards in some circumstances. Ironically, the EPA announced this plan over the public objections of several major fossil fuel companies. 

We have until Nov. 25 to comment on this latest EPA proposal.

All this matters because:

Methane, a main component of natural gas that is released when fossil fuels are extracted, is a big driver of climate change. During the time it remains in the atmosphere, methane is 87 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide is.

Methane is the second most abundant anthropogenic GHG after carbon dioxide (CO2), accounting for about 20 percent of global emissions. Methane is more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere. Over the last two centuries, methane concentrations in the atmosphere have more than doubled, largely due to human-related activities. Because methane is both a powerful greenhouse gas and short-lived compared to carbon dioxide, achieving significant reductions would have a rapid and significant effect on atmospheric warming potential.

Importance of Methane: EPA.gov

If we don’t tackle methane, we can’t successfully deal with the forward march of climate catastrophe.

And, lest we forget — methane and other pollution from oil and gas operations also make people living near production or processing sites sick. The EPA found that greenhouse gases and air pollutants — including methane — endanger both public health and public welfare. 

Currently, the EPA regulates methane and related emissions called Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs, which are toxic pollutants that cause serious harm to health). These regulations apply to new oil and gas equipment used during three stages of fossil fuel production — extraction, transportation and storage.

Under the current proposal, the EPA would cease regulating methane at all three stages AND would cease regulating VOCs in the transportation and storage stages.

The EPA now contends it doesn’t need to regulate methane under the Clean Air Act, although the EPA itself has previously concluded otherwise. 

The EPA also contends that pollution is only an issue at the sites where oil and gas are extracted from the earth, but not when the fuels are transported and stored. 

As for the fuel extraction sites, the EPA says methane controls are redundant because VOC emissions are regulated at those sites.

The problem with this contention is that pollution from leaks occurs at all stages of production, including transportation and storage, and hence leaks should be regulated at all stages. As for the VOCs, they do matter — they can be carcinogenic and you don’t want them floating up your nose. However, controlling VOCs isn’t fully effective at controlling methane emissions.

The EPA admits to likely damage from its proposal. It says its latest plan, if finalized, would increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons through 2025, and it would increase VOC emissions by 10,000 tons and emissions of other hazardous pollutants by 300 tons in those years.

However, according to the Sierra Club, independent research suggests the real hike in methane emissions from the oil and gas sector likely would be 60% to 100% more than EPA estimates.

With its newest proposal, the EPA is ignoring its basic responsibility to protect our health and safety. It is more interested in saving money for the fossil fuel industry.

Clearly, it is my view that methane should be regulated to protect human health and as one step, among many, that we need to take to deal with the ongoing climate crisis. Besides, even fossil fuel companies acknowledge that relying on voluntary steps to control leaks does not work.

Comment to the EPA:

If you agree with me on this one, comment here before November 25. I have been told several times that the more objections we file, the better if it becomes necessary to challenge the EPA in court.

For help with formulating meaningful comments, the Sierra Club provides talking points.

Write to Congress:

Separately, Rep. Diana DeGette (Colorado 1st District) earlier this year introduced the Methane Waste Prevention Act of 2019 (H.R.2711), which would use legislation to reinstate the entire methane-reduction terms of the 2016 regulations. It would allow the EPA to change the 2016 regulations for only one purpose — to further reduce the amount of this gas released into the air. 

To support the legislative angle, I offer sample postcard-sized letters below, useable for any representative, for urging your House member to push this bill. 

Please copy, tweak or rewrite these suggested letters as you wish (postcards, e-mails, faxes, phone calls, social media, etc.) and please do share with others.

Letter samples for Congress:

Dear Representative: 
I am a constituent and I support passage of the Methane Waste Prevention Act of 2019 (H.R.2711), which would reinstate the methane-reduction terms of EPA regulations introduced in 2016. The Trump administration has worked overtime to destroy these regulations. Now the EPA is taking comments on eliminating them altogether. 

The EPA acknowledges that its plan, if finalized, will increase methane emissions by 370,000 tons by 2025, while adding other dangerous pollutants, too. Meanwhile, key players in the oil and gas industry have signaled they oppose the proposed rollbacks!

Getting rid of the 2016 rules is short-sighted — and unacceptable.

-OR-

Dear Representative: 
I am a constituent and I support passage of the Methane Waste Prevention Act of 2019 (H.R.2711), which would reinstate the methane-reduction terms of EPA regulations introduced in 2016. The EPA is currently taking comments on eliminating them altogether. 

Even the EPA says, at its site, that methane is “a potent greenhouse gas with a global warming potential more than 25 times that of carbon dioxide.” Meanwhile, key players in the oil and gas industry have signaled they oppose the proposed rollbacks!!

Protect our planet. Undo the EPA plan by passing this law.

Thank you. 

Born and raised in Iowa. Earned journalism degree at University of Iowa and masters degree at Teachers College Columbia University. Spent career as investigative reporter and editor, mostly with travel trade publications. Now retired, but writing on a freelance basis.

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