Focus Shifts to EPA on Methane Regulation after Biden Action

July 8, 2021

President Biden’s restoration of Obama-era rules on methane emissions is shifting all attention to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as regulators indicate they plan to clamp down further on the potent greenhouse gas, according to a report from The Hill on July 5, 2021.

Biden this past week signed legislation getting rid of a Trump-era rollback, restoring the 2016 regulation that sought to limit emissions from new sources of methane pollution in the oil and gas industry.

While many advocates backed the revival of the Obama rule, they also argue that it didn’t go far enough, particularly when it comes to addressing long-time sources of the emissions.

“There are a lot of existing sources out there, and so the Obama-era rules, they were the first step,” said Lauren Pagel, policy director at the environmental group Earthworks.

“This was obviously finalized quite at the end of the Obama administration. If the next administration had come in and been friendly to the environment and wanted to deal with climate change, they would have quickly put those existing source standards in place.”

Biden administration officials have signaled they will look into regulating existing sources of methane, which is more powerful than carbon dioxide but doesn’t remain in the atmosphere as long.

The EPA said in its recently published regulatory agenda that it will consider proposing new regulations “to establish emission guidelines for methane emissions from existing operations in the oil and gas sector” by September.

In particular, the agency said it would examine oil and gas exploration, production, transmission, processing and storage.

The plans laid out in the agenda also said that the EPA will consider proposing new regulations to establish “comprehensive” standards for new sources of methane emissions from the sector.

While it’s unclear the extent to which new regulations would cut methane emissions, several advocacy groups told The Hill they would like to see a 65 percent reduction by 2025.

Pagel was one of several advocates who cited a 2020 paper from the Clean Air Task Force that lays out a path for cutting the emissions by 65 percent, using 2012 as a baseline year.

She said a 65 percent cut is significant and would likely hold up in court.

“The climate crisis warrants the strongest rules under the Clean Air Act to reduce methane emissions that we think are legally defensible” she said.

An EPA spokesperson indicated that the agency had not yet taken a position on emission reduction targets but confirmed to The Hill that it was working on reducing methane from both new and existing sources in the oil and gas industry by proposing fresh standards and guidelines.

“Reducing methane is an important step in fighting climate change. We believe we will need all of the tools available to us – including both voluntary and regulatory programs – as we work to reduce this potent greenhouse gas,” spokesperson Tim Carroll said in an email.

“As we develop these requirements, we are taking a comprehensive look at opportunities for reduction, including leaks, venting and flaring, and we are interested in developing a rule that will allow owners and operators to incorporate advancements in emissions detection and measurement technology,” he added.

EPA Administrator Michael Regan has indicated that he thinks cutting methane emissions could play a key role in Biden’s goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent before the end of the decade.

“There’s lot of room to be more ambitious because the markets have evolved, the technology has evolved and companies now understand the urgency and are more willing to discuss that today than they were previously,” he told Reuters in April, adding that methane reductions could be a “significant piece of the pie” on the 2030 goal.

Natural gas and petroleum systems are the second-largest source of methane emissions in the U.S., according to the EPA. Some of the ways it’s released is through leaks or the burning of excess gas in a process called flaring.

The legislative effort to get rid of the Trump-era rollbacks on methane rules was largely partisan, with just three Senate Republicans and a dozen House GOP lawmakers joining with Democrats to nix the Trump administration rule.