EPA Walks Back Protections Against Methane, a Potent Planet-Warmer

The agency is allowing the oil and gas industry to skirt polluting-cutting, climate-saving measures—right when we need them the most. 

Alexey Solodov/Alamy

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today proposed—yet again—to scrap protections that curb methane leaks from oil and gas operations, the largest source of this greenhouse gas in the United States. Pound for pound, methane is the second-most important climate pollutant after carbon dioxide, packing 87 times the heat-trapping power of CO2 over 20 years. “We simply cannot protect our children and grandchildren from a climate catastrophe if the EPA lets this industry off scot-free,” says David Doniger, senior strategic director for NRDC’s Climate & Clean Energy Program.

The EPA’s latest proposal rolls back a 2016 safeguard that requires new oil and gas equipment to limit methane pollution from wasteful leaks, a pervasive industry problem. It also exempts existing operations—which are responsible for more than 85 percent of the industry’s total emissions—from pollution-cutting requirements entirely. “The EPA is eager to give the oil and gas industry a free pass to keep leaking enormous amounts of climate pollution into the air,” Doniger says.

Polling data shows that Americans overwhelmingly support federal efforts to curb methane pollution, according to the American Lung Association. And a 2015 report from NRDC and others concluded that issuing federal standards for oil and gas infrastructure nationwide could cut the industry’s methane pollution by at least half in less than a decade. But the EPA’s latest actions, which come just months after the agency finalized its rollback of the Clean Power Plan, move the country in the opposite direction. “If the EPA does not abandon this reckless and sinister proposal,” Dongier says, “we will see them in court.”

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