The administration of United States President Donald Trump on Thursday proposed easing limits on oil and gas industry emissions of methane, one of the main pollutants scientists link to climate change.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said easing the 2016 regulation – created during the administration of former US President Barack Obama – would save energy companies up to $123m through 2025. The plan will undergo a period of public comment before being finalised, and environmental groups pledged court action to try to block the repeal of the limits.
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The proposal “removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a release.
The EPA said it will keep rules issued in 2012 that control some methane emissions and that limit smog-causing emissions known as volatile organic compounds.
Some large energy companies, including BP, favour federal regulation of methane, saying federal control is preferable to a patchwork of varying rules by states and legal challenges by environmentalists. BP has said it is already taking steps to limit methane emissions.
The move is the Trump administration’s latest easing of rules designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including many put forth by his predecessor. Trump, who insists he is an environmentalist, has also relaxed rules on carbon emissions from vehicles and intends to withdraw the US from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.
Concern about climate has heightened in recent weeks amid fires in the Arctic and the Amazon rainforest and melting of ice in Greenland. Democrats seeking their party’s nomination in the 2020 US presidential election will participate in a series of town halls on climate issues next week.
In 2016, Obama’s EPA issued the first rules limiting methane emissions from new oil and gas fracking operations, including regulations on transport equipment. Thursday’s proposal would repeal those rules.
The oil and gas business is the largest single source of methane emissions, a major factor in global warming. Methane gas has more than 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it escapes into the atmosphere, scientists say.
Susan Dio, chairman and president of BP America, supported federal regulation of methane in an opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle newspaper earlier this year, calling it the “the best way to help further reduce and ultimately eliminate methane emissions industrywide”.
Environmentalists vowed to sue the Trump administration over the proposal. “We simply cannot protect our children and grandchildren from climate catastrophe if EPA lets this industry off scot-free,” said David Doniger, a climate and clean energy specialist at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “If EPA moves forward with this reckless and sinister proposal, we will see them in court.”