While recent news stories report chaos in the Trump administration, that’s not necessarily the case at the Environmental Protection Agency. The agency is expected to announce plans to roll back yet another environmental rule – this time, relaxing regulation of how much methane oil and gas companies can release into the air.
Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy for the New York Times, and says the administration is rolling back a 2016 Obama-era rule that sought to regulate methane leaked from oil and gas wells. She says the current rule requires companies to monitor leaks every six months, and if they find leaks, they’re required to repair them within 30 days.
“Essentially, what the new Trump proposal does is drastically weaken that rule; it goes from six months to a year – in some cases to every two years,” Davenport says. “It doubles the time that is required before leaks are repaired.”
Davenport says on the face of it, the rule seems to be about reducing the amount of bookkeeping required for the companies, but she says the rule will make a significant impact on how much methane goes into the atmosphere.
The problem is that methane is a significant contributor to global warming. Davenport says while methane makes up just nine percent of greenhouse gases, it’s far more powerful at trapping heat.
“It’s over 25 percent more powerful,” she says. “There’s less of it, but it’s far more potent.”
Davenport says pressure to relax the rules came directly from the oil and gas industry. She says it claims the rules are a “red-tape nightmare” that is expensive and hard to implement, especially in remote locations.
“They said it was almost unimplementable…[it] would have cost the industry about a half a billion dollars,” Davenport says.
She says the Obama administration knew that the regulation would be expensive for companies but that the savings, in terms of impact on human health and well-being, would be worth the investment. Also, Davenport says proponents of the regulation say while it does cut into companies’ bottom lines, the cost would be insignificant compared to their billions of dollars of profit.
This is the third Obama-era EPA rule to be relaxed by the Trump administration, and for Davenport, that indicates that the EPA is running efficiently, compared to the administration’s alleged chaos characterized in recent reporting.
“When it comes to rolling back environmental regulations, the people they’ve got in the EPA know what they’re doing, they’re getting it done, they’re following the rules,” Davenport says.
She says all of the rule changes will likely end up in court, but still, they show that the EPA is working quietly, under the radar, to change Obama’s climate regulations.
Written by Caroline Covington.