Biden Administration Announces Rule to Cut Millions of Tons of Methane Emissions

Biden Administration Announces Rule to Cut Millions of Tons of Methane Emissions

The United States will, for the first time, require oil and gas producers to detect and fix leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that wafts into the atmosphere from pipelines, drill sites and storage facilities and dangerously speeds the rate of global warming.

Michael S. Regan, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, announced the regulation in Dubai, where diplomats from nearly 200 nations have gathered for a two-week United Nations climate summit. Methane is not as widely discussed as the carbon dioxide that results from burning fossil fuels, but it has become a rare area of progress this week at the global talks.

The regulation would prevent 58 million tons of methane emissions by 2038, officials said. That’s about the equivalent of all the carbon dioxide emitted by American coal-fired power plants in a single year. Mr. Regan called it one of the most important policies the United States will have enacted to slow the rate of climate change over the next decade and a half.

”On day one, President Biden restored America’s critical role as the global leader in confronting climate change, and today we’ve backed up that commitment with strong action, significantly slashing methane emissions and other air pollutants that endanger communities,” Mr. Regan said in a statement. The rule is set to take effect in early 2024.

Methane is the second most abundant greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide. It only lingers in the atmosphere about a decade after it is released, but it is about 80 times more powerful in the short term at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, which remains in the air for centuries.

Scientists say it is responsible for more than a quarter of the 1.4 degrees Celsius of warming that the planet has experienced since the preindustrial era. Cutting methane, they say, is essential to meeting the global goal of limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, and acting now can help buy the planet time as nations grapple with the more contentious problem of slashing carbon dioxide emissions.

John Kerry, President Biden’s global climate envoy, said in an interview before the summit that it was still possible to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, in large part because of global efforts to curb methane. The United States and Europe in 2021 launched a coalition that has grown to more than 150 countries that have agreed to cut 30 percent of methane emissions by 2030. That group is expected to add new members during the current summit in Dubai, known as COP28.

The United States and China also struck a deal last month in which China agreed to set a target for cutting methane, something it had yet to do despite methane accounting for about 40 percent of that country’s greenhouse gases.

The E.P.A. regulation is the largest new initiative to tackle climate change in the United States that is expected from the Biden administration during COP28. It comes as the administration faces pressure to support a global pledge to phase out fossil fuels.

Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund, an environmental group, called the E.P.A. policy “the most impactful climate rule that the United States has ever adopted in terms of addressing temperatures we would otherwise see.”

But Republicans in Congress said the regulation would hurt the gas industry and also raise energy prices for Americans at home.

“Federal overreach to advance a misguided climate agenda has become a staple of the Biden administration,” Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of Wyoming, said in a statement. She called the final rule “just one more example of these harmful regulations.”

An odorless, colorless, flammable gas, methane is produced by landfills, agriculture, livestock and oil and gas drilling. The fossil fuel industry is the biggest industrial source of methane emissions in the United States. Oil and gas companies often intentionally burn methane or vent it into the atmosphere during gas production.

The fossil fuel industry has for years been divided over the methane regulations, but many companies expressed support on Friday.

The Obama administration created rules that aimed to prevent methane leaks from oil and gas wells built since 2015, but they were rescinded by the Trump administration. President Biden pledged to restore and strengthen them after he was elected. Older oil and gas rigs tend to leak more methane than new systems.

As concentrations of methane in the atmosphere have increased, environmentalists have grown increasingly concerned about its role in climate change.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, the regulation would reduce about 58 million tons of methane emissions from 2024 to 2038, the equivalent of about 1.5 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, about what the entire power sect of the country spewed in one year. In 2030 alone, the agency estimated, the expected reductions from the rule are equivalent to 130 million metric tons of carbon dioxide, more than the annual emissions from 28 million gasoline-powered cars.

The E.P.A. said it included provisions to “limit wasteful, polluting flaring of natural gas” but the rule will be phased in over time. The agency said it wanted to give the industry enough time to obtain pollution control equipment like aerial screening, sensor networks or satellites needed to comply.

The rule also requires comprehensive monitoring for leaks of methane from well sites and compressor stations, though the agency maintained it gives companies “flexibility” to use low-cost monitoring technologies. And it also establishes standards that require reductions in emissions from high-emitting equipment like controllers, pumps, and storage tanks.

Finally, the rule includes a program to use independent third parties that would use remote sensing to detect large methane releases or leaks known as “super emitters,” which recent studies have indicated account for almost half of methane emissions from the oil and gas sector.

Climate advocates said they hoped the new United States rule would pave the way for more global progress on curbing methane. For now, though, emissions are going in the wrong direction. Last year methane emissions rose, according to a report by the World Meteorological Organization.

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