EPA Rolls Back Obama-Era Emissions Standards

Continuing a pattern established early in the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently reversed methane emissions standards on the oil and gas industry put into place under President Obama.

Specifically, the revision eliminates standards for methane emissions during oil and gas production, processing, transmission, and storage. The August 2020 move also set the stage for more changes to pollutant standards because the Clean Air Act does not define what constitutes a “significant” contribution to climate change — leaving the door open for the Trump administration to apply the definition loosely.

The EPA framed its decision around lifting regulations that make it difficult for oil and gas companies to do their work, especially when combined with state regulations. The agency estimates that the new rules will have a $750 million benefit to the U.S. economy by 2030.

“Regulatory burdens put into place by the Obama-Biden Administration fell heavily on small and medium-sized energy businesses,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. “Today’s regulatory changes remove redundant paperwork, align with the Clean Air Act, and allow companies the flexibility to satisfy leak-control requirements by complying with equivalent state rules.”

Political analysts saw the move as another attempt for Trump to distinguish himself from Democratic challenger Joe Biden in an election year. However, it’s not clear that the move will win goodwill among all oil and gas companies, who have moved toward favoring stronger regulation following public pressure to take action on the environment.

“BP believes methane should be directly regulated by the EPA and opposes today’s action by the Administration,” BP America President and Chairman David Lawler said in a statement. “The direct federal regulation of methane emissions is a critical step to protecting the environment and keeping the gas in our pipes in order to provide it to the market.”

Lee Fuller, executive vice president of the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said it’s easy for big companies like BP and Exxon-Mobil to take a stand against emission changes because they do not feel the financial impacts nearly as much as smaller, independent producers. Fuller also told The Hill that state-level regulations would protect the environment in many of the country’s top oil and gas producing states.

The Environmental Defense Fund said it planned to challenge the move, citing the fact that the regulatory changes set the stage for an additional 4.5 million metric tons of methane emissions each year, the equivalent of about 100 coal-fired power plants.

“Deregulating methane emissions is like kicking American natural gas in its Achilles heel, and the timing couldn’t be worse,” Ben Ratner, a senior director at the Environmental Defense Fund+Business who works with energy companies on methane, told the Washington Examiner.

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Image Credit: Photo by Sam Bark on Unsplash

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