EPA Announces Rules to Cut Methane Emissions

oil well
Oil Well (Wikipedia)

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced some new rules last week designed to cut the amount of methane gas released into the atmosphere as a byproduct of oil drilling operations. Methane is a greenhouse gas that’s being blamed for about 25% of the ongoing manmade global warming. The new rules are part of the Obama administration’s efforts to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

The EPA estimates the proposed rules would reduce methane emissions by 340,000 to 400,000 short tons by 2025, the equivalent of reducing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere by 7.7 to 9 million metric tons. The agency estimates the cost to implement the rules would be about $420 million, but the benefits to the economy would exceed that amount by about $120 to $150 million.

The oil industry, of course, immediately criticized the rules, even though they would only apply to new drilling operations. The American Petroleum Institute complained that the new rules would be “duplicative, costly, and undermine America’s competitiveness.”

The Republican National Committee (RNC) also weighed in against the new methane rules, but in an unexpected manner. “We are concerned that restrictions on methane gas emissions might be extended beyond new oil drilling operations,” said RNC spokesperson Kirsty Kookorian. “If they become widespread, it could make it very difficult for us to conduct Republican presidential candidate debates.”

Updates

On September 10, 2018, it was reported that the Donald Trump administration plans to propose to eliminate regulations that limit methane emissions from oil and natural gas wells.

The Road to Irrelevance

dead republican elephantSeveral Republican presidential candidates attended the Road to Majority conference being sponsored by the conservative Faith & Freedom Coalition and the Concerned Women for American in Washington D.C. this week.

The Faith & Freedom Coalition described the conference as, “an important training and equipping weekend to fight the radical Obama agenda, advance conservative legislation at the state and federal level, and prepare for the 2016 elections.”

All of the Republican candidates spoke about the topics most dear to the conference attendees – outlawing abortions and the stopping the spread of gay rights.

On Wednesday night a young white man named Dylann Roof  shot nine black people to death during a Bible study session at the historical Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. When he was captured by police he said he did it to try and start a race war.

On Thursday Pope Francis issued a papal encyclical letter wherein he declared global warming to be a manmade problem that the world’s politicians have a moral responsibility to help solve immediately.

Racial violence in America and the injustices caused by climate change weren’t addressed at the Road to Majority conference.

Republican Energy Policies Lack Foresight

dead republican elephantOne of the first things House Republicans did after their party took control of the U.S. Senate in the 2014 elections was to pass legislation authorizing the construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. Congressional Republicans remain fixated on approving the pipeline despite the fact that the recent drop in oil prices threatens the economic viability of the Canadian tar sands oil industry that wants to use it. The House bill to authorize the pipeline failed in the Senate, which is still under Democratic control until the newly elected senators are sworn in. But Republicans vowed to get it approved after they take control in January.

Another way Republican politicians have shown their affection for fossil fuel energy is by voicing their opposition to President Obama’s Clean Power Plan. The plan’s goal is to reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from power plants by an estimated 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. This would be accomplished primarily by getting power plants to shift from burning coal to natural gas, which is cheaper and burns much cleaner. U.S. power plants account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s CO2 emissions and the Earth’s atmospheric CO2 levels have risen to their highest levels in the last 800,000 years, primarily from humans burning fossil fuels for energy. Because CO2 is a greenhouse gas, this has contributed to the recent phenomenon of global warming, and the resultant ongoing climate changes. The U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report for 2014 recently confirmed that the effects of human-caused climate change are widespread and serious, already affecting every aspect of human life.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a first draft of the Clean Power Plan in June of 2014. It proposed state-by-state carbon emissions rate reduction targets, and offered a flexible framework under which states may meet those targets. Republicans have denounced the plan as a “war on coal”, despite the fact that public opinion polls show most Americans support Obama’s initiative. Also, more than 200 U.S. companies signed a letter supporting the EPA’s proposals, and Native American tribes with reservations near coal-fired power plants have expressed their support too.

Arizona Republicans have been especially critical of the Clean Power Plan because it calls for their state to achieve at least a 52 percent reduction in power plant CO2 emissions by 2030. They say that’s unfair because it’s a higher percentage reduction than almost every other state in the country. They’ve also been sympathetic to claims by local power company officials that it would be “impossible” for them to switch to burning natural gas as quickly as the draft plan requires, even though several gas pipelines already crisscross the state.

It seems, unfortunately, that Arizona Republicans and some of the local power companies have no intention of working on plans to switch from coal to natural gas as soon as possible, and are determined to resist the EPA. They will argue that it’s a matter of cost, or a violation of states’ rights, but I suspect that many of them still don’t believe that human-caused climate change is a reality.

On the national level, if Congressional Republicans really want to improve the economy by authorizing pipelines, they should show some foresight and pass legislation to promote the construction of pipelines that can supply natural gas to power plants.

Updates

On March 28, 2017, President Donald Trump signed an executive order requiring a review of Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

On October 10 EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt signed a proposed rule to repeal the Clean Power Plan. The proposal must go through the federal government’s public rulemaking process.

On June 1, 2018, Republican President Donald Trump announced he had instructed U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry to “prepare immediate steps” to keep unprofitable coal-fired and nuclear energy plants from closing. A broad coalition of environmental and business groups responded that it was illegal and would force consumers to pay more for electricity.

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