Update: CARB Defers Action on Coal Mine Methane Offsets

Late today, the California Air Resources Board directed staff to conduct additional analysis and respond to concerns raised about a proposal to allow the state’s major polluters to use reductions from methane emissions from coal mines as a way to comply with California’s AB 32 clean energy law, which could become a significant source of new revenue for the coal industry.

It’s heartening that the board, which oversees implementation of the AB 32 Global Warming Solutions Act, was responsive to our concerns and will undertake further investigation before reaching a decision on what we believe is a bad fit for our landmark clean energy legislation.

Because California has no active coal mines and only a few small abandoned mines, virtually all of the methane-capture projects would be located out of state. Under the proposal put forward by the Air Resources Board staff, California’s largest polluters would be allowed to purchase credits from projects where methane – a potent greenhouse gas pollutant vented into the atmosphere during coal mining – was captured and destroyed, or injected into a pipeline, instead of being vented.  Although it’s important to prevent methane from getting into the atmosphere, California wouldn’t see any of the additional benefits that can accompany greenhouse gas emission reduction projects. 

The Air Resources Board previously approved offset protocols for forestry and urban forestry projects; projects that destroy ozone-depleting substances; and projects that capture methane from livestock. Providing alternatives helps ensure we achieve our emission reduction targets in the most cost-effective manner, as AB 32 requires.  

Unlike the other protocols, the coal mine methane proposal doesn’t provide environmental and local benefits in California – like new jobs and decreases in toxic air pollutants that harm our health. Instead, it would provide a new revenue stream – potentially upward of $600 million by the end of the decade, based on the estimate of available credits presented by staff today – for coal mine operators.  (My previous blog included an estimate of $300 million in potential revenue. The updated estimate of coal mine methane offsets provided by staff today results in a much higher potential revenue stream.)

We’re glad the Air Resources Board agreed the coal mine methane protocol raises important concerns and directed staff to conduct additional analysis on its potential impacts before being brought back for consideration.