Environmental Protection Agency chief Gina McCarthy told Politico Magazine that new regulations to reduce methane emissions from oil and natural gas activity will be unveiled this month.
“You will see both regulatory actions, as well as some significant opportunities for voluntary action,” McCarthy said when asked by Politico about the agency’s plans for methane emissions.
“We already have proposals out that would expand that to oil as well,” McCarthy said. “So this is a significant continued look at where regulations fit most effectively across the administration, as well as where voluntary actions can fill in the gap.”
The EPA chief’s announcement comes after months of environmentalist campaigning for the agency to adopt new regulations, and not just voluntary programs, to reduce methane emissions. Republicans claim that the involvement of one environmental group in particular is troubling.
“Once again, the Environmental Protection Agency is taking marching orders from the Natural Resources Defense Council on setting regulations harmful to job creation and our economy,” Oklahoma Republican Sen. James Inhofe told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
The NRDC is currently being investigated by Republican lawmakers for their alleged undue influence in crafting EPA rules to cut carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants. Emails and media reports suggest NRDC was intimately involved in the creation of the power plant rules. Republicans say that NRDC’s calls for methane reduction are a cause for concern.
““I have consistently said the EPA’s War on Fossil Fuels would not stop with coal, and Administrator Gina McCarthy is actively proving my point in the EPA’s pursuit of aggressive regulations on natural gas,” said Inhofe, who will chair the Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee next year.
“The NRDC’s involvement is no surprise, as it was recently revealed the EPA had a clear plan to undermine States’ input to cooperate on the planning of the carbon rule giving evidence to the NRDC’s ability to manipulate the EPA to follow an extreme environmentalist agenda,” Inhofe said.
The NRDC called for stricter methane rules, releasing a report detailing how new regulations could cut methane emissions in half. NRDC’s report argues that setting national standards for leak detection and repair, replacing old equipment on wells.
“This is the most significant, most cost-effective thing the administration can do to tackle climate change pollution that it hasn’t already committed to do,” said top NRDC lobbyist David Doniger, who has been of special interest to Republican investigators for his role in influencing the EPA’s power plant rule.
“Curbing the dangerous methane pollution leaking from the oil and gas industry is critical to meeting the nation’s climate protection targets,” Doniger said. “Along with cutting carbon pollution from power plants and vehicles, these practical steps are the one-two punch we need to stave off the worst effects of a disrupted climate.”
Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that is a byproduct of natural gas drilling. The Obama administration made it a focus of their environmental regulatory push earlier this year by ordering the EPA to look at ways curb emissions from oil and gas activities.
For months, the EPA would not say whether it would impose new regulations on oil and gas operations or expand voluntary programs to reduce emissions — or both. But after calls from green groups and Democratic lawmakers, EPA’s McCarthy has affirmed the agency will impose new rules and expand voluntary programs.
“We need to get at that issue, so we’re going to be putting out a methane strategy across the administration,” McCarthy told Politico. “We wanted to put it out this fall, so you’ll see it most likely this month. You will see both regulatory actions, as well as some significant opportunities for voluntary action.”
“Americans deserve better than political games, and they deserve an economy with freedom and ability to pursue opportunities without stifling regulations,” Inhofe shot back. “My colleagues and I are looking forward to addressing costly and burdensome regulations in the new Congress.”
McCarthy’s promise of more regulations comes on the heels of a new study that found methane emissions from oil and gas operations were smaller than previously thought.
University of Texas Researchers found that methane leaks from oil and gas wells was only 0.38 percent of total production — 10 percent lower than the same research group reported last year.
“The overall average emission rates reported in this work are lower than the previous data sets reported by [the UT researchers] for the United States, and for British Columbia and Alberta,” UT researchers wrote in a study backed by the Environmental Defense Fund.
The study did find, however, that methane leaks from pneumatic controllers on natural gas wells were 17 percent higher than EPA estimates. But as with liquid unloadings for gas wells, most of the high emissions from pneumatic controllers was “dominated by a small subpopulation of the controllers,” according to researchers.
Methane emissions from hydraulic fracturing have fallen 73 percent since 2011, according to the EPA’s own data.
The EPA attempted to clarify McCarthy’s comments. “What she said was that we’ll be looking at all the options available when the Administration puts out a methane strategy, which is part of the President’s climate action plan,” an agency spokeswoman told TheDCNF.
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