Buried in the sweeping executive order President Trump signed this week to undo critical climate and public health protections was a provision seeking to overturn limits on methane pollution from the oil and gas industry.
As Trump launches an all-out assault on his predecessor’s climate initiatives, this little-noticed methane provision may seem like a side note. Unfortunately, it could have major implications for our nation.
Rules benefit taxpayers and industry
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized common-sense clean air standards for new and modified oil and gas operations in May 2016 after a multi-year public and technical review. The Bureau of Land Management followed with a similar rule late last year that addresses methane pollution on federal and public lands.
The EPA’s nationwide safeguards, now targeted by the Trump administration, were modeled after methane initiatives already implemented in Colorado and Ohio – programs that have been popular with the public and proven cost-effective for the industry. California followed suit in late March 2017 when it adopted strong rules to cut methane from the state’s oil and gas sector.
The main ingredient in natural gas, methane is a potent greenhouse gas with 84 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over the first 20 years after it is emitted. America’s oil and gas industry currently releases nearly 10 million metric tons of methane a year, enough to cover the gas needs of more than 7 million homes.
In addition to mitigating a potent climate pollutant, methane protections would capture and reduce smog-forming and toxic air pollution that is released along with methane.
Unsurprisingly, efforts to weaken these rules have run into public and political resistance, also from constituents in key energy-producing states.
America’s oil and gas industry currently releases nearly 10 million metric tons of methane a year.
According to a national poll conducted just last month, 73 percent of Americans support state and federal action requiring the oil and gas industry to reduce gas leaks.
In light of such public sentiment it’s especially troubling that Trump’s executive order would roll back BLM limits on methane waste and pollution on our nation’s federal and tribal lands. Oil and gas development in these areas is widespread and natural gas waste is mounting.
Such waste contributes not just to climate and public health risks, but also to millions of dollars in lost royalties that could benefit states, tribes and federal taxpayers.
Congress has even taken the attack against the BLM methane standards a step further. Industry allies in the U.S. Senate are trying to use a blunt, arcane law called the Congressional Review Act to completely kill these protections – potentially blocking future administrations from addressing methane waste on public lands.
These efforts all share a common theme: Favoring the oil and gas polluter lobby at the expense of citizens and our environment. This, surely, is not what America is about.