The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will no longer ask oil and gas drilling companies to disclose information on equipment and methane emissions levels at their existing operations, the agency said on Thursday.
The EPA established these standards last year as part of the Barack Obama administration’s goal to reduce methane emissions by 40 to 45 percent from 2012 levels by 2025. But 11 state governments requested a suspension of these information requests, saying they are too expensive and “unlawful.”
Environmental groups supported last year’s measure, as they insist methane is anywhere from 20 to 30 times more potent than other greenhouse gases. Organizations such as Greenpeace and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) often tout studies by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that suggest methane can be 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over a long period of time.
The oil and gas industry, however, has stridently opposed what is often referred to as the “information collection request” mandate.
In a statement released on Thursday, the American Petroleum Institute (API) said the EPA’s reversal is a “positive step” in reducing what it calls regulatory burdens on the country’s oil and gas sector. “The United States is leading the world in the production and refining of oil and natural gas and in the reduction of carbon emissions,” said API’s Howard Feldman, “and we look forward to working with the administration on lawful, common sense regulations that create jobs and benefit American consumers.”
Opponents of this EPA mandate insist that state laws, along with corporate self-regulation, are sufficient enough to reduce emissions.
These same interests are also targeting similar rules that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) established in order to reduce natural gas waste resulting from flaring and leakage across publicly-owned and Native American lands. Energy companies oppose the BLM’s stance, saying the agency has no business monitoring air quality.
But in an op-ed on The Hill, representatives of the investment firms Trillium Asset Management, Miller-Howard Investments and Sonen Capital argued otherwise. They insist the prevention of methane leaks not only reduces climate change risks, but can also capture natural gas that could be used to heat homes and power businesses. They insist a burgeoning methane mitigation sector could also create jobs in rural areas, where decent-paying work often scarce.
The authors, Jonas Kron, Luan Jenifer and Will Morgan, urged the U.S. Senate to vote against the proposed roll-back of the BLM methane rules, a measure that has already passed the House.
This latest announcement from the EPA may further worry those who believe the previous administration made significant progress on the environmental front, while emboldening opponents who became increasingly angry with the agency for imposing what they insist is little more than financial and regulatory hurdles for companies.
But for both sides, the roller coaster ride is far from over.
At a national gathering of U.S. mayors on Thursday, new EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt defended some grant programs the Donald Trump administration reportedly has in its crosshairs. Pruitt said he advised the White House not to cut funds for these programs, which include the Superfund cleanup initiative. Dating back to the 1980s, the program is responsible for cleaning up brownfield sites and remediating areas contaminated by hazardous waste across the U.S.
Image credit: BLM/Flickr