The Trump administration is planning to significantly weaken or roll back two key rules enacted in 2016 that limit the release of methane gas into the atmosphere, according to the New York Times.
The first rule, overseen by the Environmental Protection Agency, requires oil and gas companies to monitor pipelines for leaks every six months and then to make repairs on any leaks within one month. The Trump administration’s update would let companies monitor pipelines every year, or every other year in some cases, and allow for two months to repair leaks.
“These leaks can pop up anytime, anywhere, up and down the oil and gas supply chain,” Matt Watson, methane expert with the Environmental Defense Fund, told the Times. “The longer you go in between inspections, the longer leaks will go undetected and unrepaired.”
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The second rule, which falls under the Interior Department’s purview, prevents oil and gas companies from intentionally “flaring” or burning methane as a way to release pressure from pipelines. The rule was expected to prevent 180,000 tons of methane emissions each year, which would be like removing nearly a million cars from the road.
The Trump administration wants to scrap it altogether.
Methane accounts for an estimated 9% of global warming and is more potent than carbon dioxide, trapping atmospheric heat 25 times more effectively.
Not only does methane intensify climate change, but it also has immediate health impacts on people living in the vicinity of leaks. In 2016, hundreds of thousands of pounds of methane began leaking from a natural gas pipe in Aliso Canyon, California. Methane is invisible, so the leak went forensically undetected for a while, but nearby residents began to experience dizziness, nosebleeds, headaches, vomiting, and other symptoms.
The methane regulations enacted by the Obama administration were meant to stop events like this. Both rules were central components of the previous administration’s larger strategy to mitigate climate change. Their expected dismantling is part of the Trump administration’s effort to undo regulations that it perceives as too burdensome on the fossil fuel industry.
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Earlier in the year, the EPA significantly weakened the Obama-era regulation on vehicle emissions and then similarly weakened a plan to reduce emissions from coal power plants.
Watering down this bundle of regulations — established after several years of scientific research, policy analysis, and public input — makes it significantly harder for the US to achieve the commitments it made under the Paris climate agreement, according to environmentalists, which President Trump withdrew from last year, turning the US into an environmental pariah on the global stage.
Despite this unraveling of rules, states and cities throughout the US are stepping up to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and transition to a fossil fuel-free future.
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"We have seen in the cities, and we have seen in many states, a very strong commitment to the Paris agreement, to the extent that some indicators are moving even better than in the recent past," Antonio Guterres, the UN secretary-general, told reporters earlier in the year.
"There are expectations that, independently of the position of the administration, the US might be able to meet the commitments made in Paris as a country,” he said.