Amid reports that President Donald J. Trump plans to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, an international climate accord comes news that a controversial environmental rule is also on borrowed time.
The Environmental Protection Agency this week announced it will stay rules intended to curb methane emissions from oil and gas explorations, in particular fracking projects and both new and modified wells.
The performance standard imposed by the Obama Administration last year establishes new source performance standards for greenhouse gas emissions and volatile organic compound emissions from the oil and natural gas sector. Among the requirements was to detect and repair leaks of methane and other pollutants, certifying those fixes by a professional engineer.
In an April 18 letter to oil and gas companies, the EPA reported that it would reconsider of the fugitive emission requirements.
Now, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has issued a 90-day stay to halt federal leak detection and repair requirements scheduled to take full effect on June 3. He said he may soon propose to extend the stay indefinitely.
The decision fits squarely with Trump Administration priorities. During an April speech at a coalmine in Pennsylvania, EPA Administrator Scott Pruit announced a “back-to-basics” agenda. The agenda, he said, refocuses the EPA on its intended mission, “returning power to the states, and creating an environment where jobs can grow.”
A driving force in redefining the EPA’s mission, Pruitt said, is the President’s recent Energy Independence Executive Order, which directs federal agencies to review the Clean Power Plan and revise regulatory barriers that impede energy independence, “including unnecessary burdens on coal miners and coal-fired electric utilities.”
In response to EPA’s most recent actions, the Natural Resources Defense Council is promising to “sue as the Trump Administration begins dismantling methane pollution protections.”
NRDC is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 2 million members and online activists. The oil and gas sector is the largest U.S. industrial emitter of methane, the second-biggest driver of climate change after carbon dioxide, it says. Methane leaks also release smog-forming and cancer-causing chemicals, endangering the health of people in neighboring communities.
“Leak detection and repair is crucial to identify and stop methane and other pollutants from pouring out of the hundreds of valves, pumps, tanks and other equipment at oil and gas wells, as well as in the pipeline network that brings the gas to market,” it said in a statement. “Finding and fixing these leaks is technically simple, cost-effective, prevents wasted gas, and creates high-paying jobs.”
“On the heels of news reports that the U.S. will walk away from a global commitment to combat climate change, President Trump is sabotaging headway the U.S. has already made,” says David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the NRDC. “The Trump administration is giving its friends in the oil and gas industry a free pass to continue polluting our air. EPA is continuing to put thousands of people in communities near these facilities at increased risk for asthma attacks and cancer. We will fight Trump’s latest polluter giveaway in court.”