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Latest Obama-Era Regulations Targeted by the Trump Administration: Methane Rules

One Obama-era climate regulation still on the books deals with methane leakage from oil and gas wells. The greenhouse gas is 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Another methane regulation targeted deals with flaring on federal lands.
September 13, 2018, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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"The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirement that companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times," writes energy and environmental reporter, Coral Davenport. It is the Trump administration's "third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change" after announcing it would repeal and replace the Clean Power Plan and freeze light-duty vehicle emissions standards.

In a related move, the Interior Department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and “flaring,” or burning, of methane from drilling operations.

"Methane, which is about 25 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, accounts for 9 percent of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions; about a third of that is estimated to come from oil and gas operations," wrote Lisa Friedman, a New York Times reporter on the climate desk, in February on the Interior Department's proposed rollback of an Obama-era rule.

The rule, which applied to companies drilling for energy on federal land, has been the subject of intense court battles and delay efforts, as well as one surprise vote last year in which Senate Republicans temporarily saved it from being torpedoed.

Under the rule, oil and gas companies would have been required to capture leaked methane, update their equipment and write new plans for minimizing waste when drilling on government property...The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management described the rule as costly, redundant and overly burdensome.

"Industry groups praised the expected changes," adds Davenport, 

“It’s a neat pair” of proposals on methane, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies that is based in Denver. The Obama-era E.P.A. methane rule, she said, “was the definition of red tape. It was a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field.”

"The change would save the gigantic oil and gas industry a relatively small amount of money, and the Environmental Protection Agency acknowledged that it would come with costs for public health as a result of the additional pollution it would allow," reports Marianne Lavelle of InsideClimate News

In documents [pdf] on the costs and benefits of the rule change, the agency said it couldn't quantify those health costs due to "data limitations."

"The Trump Administration is once again ignoring facts and common sense only to put the interests of the nation's worst-run oil and gas companies ahead of the health and welfare of all Americans," said Matt Watson, Environmental Defense Fund's associate vice president for energy.

Davenport also appeared on the PBS NewsHour (transcript and audio available) to discuss the rollbacks with correspondent William Brangham on Wednesday evening. "What is sort of surprising and interesting is how effectively and efficiently [the Trump administration] is doing these regulatory rollbacks," she stated.

So much of this administration’s policy agenda is — is sort of dysfunctional or chaotic. So many proposals have kind of flailed or are still sort of dysfunctional or in chaos, whereas the move to roll back these regulations, particularly on climate change, are — they’re being done correctly. They’re going through the right channels.

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Published on Monday, September 10, 2018 in The New York Times
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