Friday, March 28, 2014

Obama Administration Proposes New Rules To Reduce Methane Emissions

The Obama administration today announced a four-pronged strategy of new regulations and guidelines on methane, a greenhouse gas whose effect warming the planet is more than 20 times greater than carbon dioxide. The strategy primarily addresses practices in the natural-gas industry, agriculture, landfills and coal mines.

The most controversial source of methane in the past few years has been from natural gas, whose primary component is methane.  Natural gas burns 50% less carbon emissions than coal and 30% fewer than oil.  Methane accounts for nearly 9% of domestic greenhouse gas emissions today.

The White House strategy orders several federal agencies to propose rules and guidelines cutting down on methane emissions produced from several sources. According to the administration, 36% of methane emissions come from agriculture, primarily from gases emitted by livestock; 23% from natural-gas systems, including production and transmission; 18% from landfills and 10% from coal mining.

In April, the Interior Department will start the rule-making process to develop a program to capture and dispose of waste mine methane on lands leased by the federal government.  The Interior Department will propose standards later this year to require companies to reduce the amount of natural gas they vent and flare, a practice that has grown in the last several years as pipeline infrastructure hasn't kept pace with companies' natural-gas and oil drilling. This rule will only apply to drilling on public lands, however; and much of the new oil and gas drilling, done using hydraulic-fracturing technology, is conducted on private lands.

This June the Agriculture and Energy Departments will release voluntary strategies for the dairy sector to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 25% by 2020.

This spring the Environmental Protection Agency—already the target of congressional Republicans for its regulations targeting the coal industry—will gather input from the industry and other experts through a series of white papers on how best to address methane from the energy sector. The EPA also will propose updated standards to cut methane from new landfills and take public input about whether to update standards for existing landfills.

The strategy reflects a reluctance to commit to new EPA regulations targeting methane, which could be politically unpopular and contradict the administration's rhetoric and actions on natural gas in the last couple of years. It leaves open the option for EPA to propose new rules, but doesn't say whether it will.

EPA doesn't currently regulate methane and hasn't decided whether it will.  Rules EPA finalized in 2012 targeting other air pollutants indirectly help cut methane emissions. (WSJ, 3/28/2014)

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