We're often focused on limiting carbon emissions, as it is the most abundant of the greenhouse gases that are heating our planet, but methane is 84 times more potent. The Obama administration placed new restrictions on the incredibly dangerous and harmful greenhouse gas in an attempt to curb its release, but Trump is about to open the floodgates again. According to the Times, the Trump administration is expected to finalize a rule this Friday that will roll back prior protections and allow energy companies to once again release methane into the atmosphere.
The new rule, which will be introduced by the Environmental Protection Agency, will eliminate prior requirements that mandated oil and gas companies install technology that could detect methane leaks from wells, pipelines, and storage sites. The rule also will no longer mandate that those leaks be fixed. The reasoning behind the rule is reportedly that it will lift what some in the industry view as restrictive regulations that place a financial burden on companies who are already struggling to stay afloat thanks to losses experienced as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. The trade-off, though, is instead of making oil and gas companies deal with the messes they make, these companies will leave the rest of us to deal with the fallout.
Not everyone is on board with the new rule. While environmentalists are understandably upset about the pending decision, even some within the energy industry think the Trump administration is going too far. When the EPA first revealed that it was proposing the rule change, it received pushback from Joe Ellis, a vice president at oil giant BP. In a public comment left on a draft of the new rule, Ellis said that the government agency should "continue to regulate methane emissions from new sources and to adopt a rule for existing sources," arguing that "regulation of methane across the value chain is the right thing to do for the environment." Similar sentiments have been shared by executives at Exxon Mobile and Shell, who have pushed the Trump administration to maintain regulations on methane gas.
This pushback from the industry that Trump claims to be trying to help has become more common as his administration continues to undo regulations intended to protect the environment. Earlier this year, the EPA finalized a rule that undid restrictions on mercury emissions and other toxins, allowing power plants to more freely pollute surrounding areas. The change came in spite of the fact that energy industry interests lobbied Trump to leave the rule.
Earlier this year, a study published in the journal Nature indicated that methane emissions may already be underestimated by as much as 40 percent. While methane only accounts for about 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions, it is one of the most devastating, accounting for about 25 percent of all manmade global warming, according to the Environmental Defense Fund. The majority of methane emissions come from the energy sector, and detecting and addressing leaks was one of the more effective ways of curbing unnecessary emissions. It may result in more profits for industry interests, but it'll cause more problems for the rest of us.