By ELLEN KNICKMEYER and MATTHEW BROWN
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Trump administration moved closer on Tuesday to rolling back Obama-administration rules reducing oil and gas industry leaks of methane gas, one of the most biggest agents of climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency formally released its proposed substitute for an Obama administration rule from 2016 that aimed to improve the detection and elimination of methane leaks at well sites and other oil and gas operations. The agency’s move is part of a broad Trump administration effort to undo President Barack Obama’s legacy programs to fight climate change by reducing emissions from oil, gas and coal.
The EPA’s proposal on Tuesday conceded that relaxing the Obama administreation rule for methane leaks at oil and gas sites would put an additional 380,000 tons of methane into the atmosphere from 2019 to 2025. The amount is roughly equivalent to more than 30 million tons of carbon dioxide, another fossil-fuel emission that receives far more attention in attempts to slow climate change.
The EPA noted that increased pollution as a result of its proposal “may also degrade air quality and adversely affect health and welfare.” Relaxing federal oversight will save $75 million worth of regulatory costs annually, the agency said.
Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, a Colorado-based group that represents more than 300 companies, said the proposed changes would make the EPA rule more efficient and workable. The previous rule was overly burdensome and “full of red tape. This rule cleans that up, makes it more practical” for industry to come into compliance, Sgamma said in an interview.
Oil and gas drillers have “a four-decade long trend to reduce emissions,” and the new EPA rules recognize that reality, Sgamma said, adding that she hopes an Interior rule to be finalized in coming days will show a similar practical streak. The pending rule by the Bureau of Land Management applies to fracking sites on public lands.
Environmentalists contend energy companies already have demonstrated they can comply with tougher monitoring and that only poorly operated companies were having trouble with the new requirements.
“Once again, the Trump administration is putting the interests of the worst-operated oil and gas companies ahead of the health and welfare of everyday Americans,” said Matt Watson, an associate vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund.
Gov. Jerry Brown of California told an audience in San Francisco on Tuesday, held ahead of a climate conference, that President Donald Trump’s proposal to ease monitoring of methane releases is “insane” and “borders on criminality.”
“It perhaps is the most obvious and dangerous and irresponsible action by Mr. Trump — and that’s saying quite a lot,” said Brown, a Democrat.
The EPA under Obama completed the existing rule in May 2016, and it took effect that August. Industry groups pushed the EPA to reconsider it, and the Trump administration put parts of it on hold in May 2017.
The rule was reinstated by the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., last year after environmental groups sued, and it remains in effect, according to the EPA.
The action on Tuesday opens a 60-day period for public comment ahead of any final decision by the Trump administration.
In North Dakota, the nation’s biggest oil-producing state after Texas, drillers scaled back production for a time this summer to keep so-called flaring — burning off of methane and other gases pumped up as waste byproducts with the oil — within state limits.
North Dakota Air Quality Director Terry O’Clair said the state typically adopts “nothing more stringent than the federal rules.” State officials would reconsider their recently toughened rules on oilfield gas leaks if federal officials loosen theirs, he said.