Biden announces sharp cuts to methane emissions as Congress delays his climate agenda

The Biden administration announced Tuesday that it will reduce methane emissions. This greenhouse gas is much more potent than carbon dioxide and contributes to significant global warming. The announcement was made on Tuesday at the United Nations climate summit in Scotland, where world leaders revealed an international agreement to reduce methane emissions. Brokered by the United States and Europe, the agreement would require countries to cut emissions by a least one-third below 2020 levels by the end of this decade. So far, almost 100 countries have signed the pledge. The proposed rule could have major consequences for California. Oil production in the state has been declining since the 1980s. Fossil fuel companies, some of which have gone out of business, have left about 35,000 oil and gas wells sitting idle. Many of these wells remain unplugged, increasing the chance that they will leak methane gas and other cancer-causing chemicals.

In a short speech Tuesday, Biden urged countries to “go beyond the agreed-to reductions” and encouraged more countries to sign up. He stated that there are many countries that could join the pledge and should.

Despite being among the top emitting countries of methane, India, Russia, and China have not signed the pledge. Neither the Chinese President Xi Jinping or Vladimir Putin, the Russian President, will be attending the conference. Both sent envoys.

Ursula von der Leyen (president of the European Commission) also announced Tuesday that European countries will propose new rules for reducing methane emissions. This includes a requirement that oil and gas companies report and measure their methane emissions as well as repair methane leaks.

“We cannot wait until 2050; we have to cut emissions fast. She said that methane was one of the most difficult gases to cut. If countries fulfill their promises, she said, the additional pollution cuts that often accompany methane emission reductions could prevent 200,000 premature deaths and hundreds of thousands of asthma-related hospital emissions.

The proposed rule by the Biden administration comes after weeks of frustration for Congress as Democrats struggle to resolve differences regarding climate and social policy. Biden has not been able to win a significant legislative victory in the United States, as he pushes for more international action on climate change.

A new, long-awaited rule from the Environmental Protection Agency would for the first time crack down on methane emission from approximately a million oil wells in the country.

Some methane emissions are natural. Their largest industrial source is the U.S. oil and gas industry. The American Petroleum Institute is its main trade group. However, it supported Trump’s decision to repeal methane emission regulations. These regulations were later reinstated in Congress HTML1.

But even the current regulations apply only to newer wells drilled or modified after 2015, leaving more than 90% of the nation’s wells unregulated. These regulations would be expanded to cover methane leaks from new and old sources.

The proposal by the administration would allow the EPA to continue to regulate methane emissions from new wells. Meanwhile, states would be required to develop their own methane rules for older wells that align with federal guidelines. Calling the proposed rule a historic action, Michael Regan, EPA Administrator, stated on Tuesday that it would “ensure robust cuts in pollution across all of the country.”

“As global leaders convene at this pivotal moment in Glasgow for COP26, it is now abundantly clear that America is back and leading by example in confronting the climate crisis with bold ambition,” Regan said in a statement referring to the U.N. summit. The conference will last for two weeks after Biden and other leaders of the government return home.

According to the EPA, the new rule, which would be established under the Clean Air Act, would reduce methane emissions by 41 million tons from 2023 to 2035, the equivalent, in terms of environmental harm, of 920 million metric tons of carbon dioxide. That’s more carbon dioxide than was emitted by all American cars and commercial aircraft in 2019. This level of impact is possible due to methane’s power. A main component of natural gas, methane is 80 times more effective than carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere during the first 20 years after it’s released.

Scientists have estimated that methane is responsible for about one-third of human-caused global warming. According to them, reducing methane emissions and the burning of natural gas from oil refineries and wells could be the best ways to slow climate change.

California could face significant challenges in implementing the proposed regulations. An investigation by The Times and the Center for Public Integrity in 2020 found that oil and gas companies haven’t set aside nearly enough money to ensure that these wells are capped and surrounding areas are made safe for nearby residents.

Methane currently accounts for about 10% of California’s greenhouse gas emissions, but that share is growing as carbon dioxide pollution declines. Earlier this year, state officials announced plans to put two satellites into orbit in 2023 to help them track down hard-to-find “super-emitters” of methane and carbon dioxide.

One of those emitters revealed itself last year. The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power disclosed in late 2020 that its power plant had been leaking methane gas for at least three years, angering San Fernando Valley residents.

The Biden administration also targets methane emissions via regulations that are not issued by the EPA.

The Transportation Department is working to tighten methane regulations that govern the nation’s pipelines. Interior Department is developing rules to limit the ability of companies to use natural gas from public drilling sites. And the Agriculture Department plans to mitigate global warming by paying farmers to store carbon dioxide through better soil management and other techniques.

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