Trump Administration Targets Obama-Era Effort to Limit Methane


The Trump administration on Monday moved to repeal one of the last unchallenged climate-change regulations rushed into place in the waning days of the Obama presidency — a rule restricting the release of planet-warming methane into the atmosphere.

The rule, which applied to companies drilling for energy on federal land, has been the subject of intense court battles and delay efforts, as well as one surprise vote last year in which Senate Republicans temporarily saved it from being torpedoed.

Methane, which is about 25 times more potent at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, accounts for 9 percent of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions; about a third of that is estimated to come from oil and gas operations. Under the rule, oil and gas companies would have been required to capture leaked methane, update their equipment and write new plans for minimizing waste when drilling on government property.

The Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management described the rule as costly, redundant and overly burdensome.

“In order to achieve energy dominance through responsible energy production, we need smart regulations, not punitive regulations,” Joe Balash, the department’s assistant secretary for land and minerals management, said Monday in a statement.

The move came as the Trump administration released an $11.3 billion budget for the Interior Department that emphasized the development of domestic energy resources and “responsible development of energy on public lands and offshore waters.”

The methane waste rule was aimed at accidental gas leaks and the process of venting and burning off leaked gas, known as flaring, from oil and gas wells on public lands. It was created as part of a broad strategy to tackle climate change as well as wasteful releases of gas. The Bureau of Land Management estimated in 2016 that the rule would prevent as much as 180,000 tons of methane emissions annually, about the equivalent of taking 950,000 cars off the road.

The oil and gas industry argued that the rule could cost as much as $279 million to implement and would hinder production. The industry made repeal of the regulation a top priority.

An early effort to revoke the regulation hit a snag in May when Senators John McCain of Arizona, Susan Collins of Maine and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, all Republicans, voted against a Senate resolution that would have eliminated it. The lawmakers said they were concerned that the resolution would have made regulating methane waste more difficult in the future.

The Interior Department then twice tried to suspend the regulation, an effort that is still being challenged in court.

Western lawmakers on Monday cheered the repeal, saying the rule would have discouraged energy production and job growth. “The previous administration scorned domestic energy development and crafted the prior rule to deliberately stifle it,” said Representative Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican who chairs the House Committee on Natural Resources. He called the repeal “a necessary step.”

Environmental activists denounced the plan and noted that the repeal would return the Bureau of Land Management to a set of policies dealing with methane waste that are almost 40 years old. “Gutting the rule would allow unchecked waste of natural gas, unnecessary pollution and the loss of revenue to communities and tribes to address critical needs such as schools and roads,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

The agency is expected to publish the proposal in the Federal Register, which will kick off a 60-day public comment period. A final repeal of the rule would come after that.

Lisa Friedman reports on climate and environmental policy in Washington. A former editor at Climatewire, she has covered eight international climate talks. @LFFriedman


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