Congresswoman Diana DeGette

Representing the First District of Colorado
Twitter icon
Facebook icon
YouTube icon
Instagram icon

Lawmakers urge EPA to drop its plan to undo methane waste rule

Nov 25, 2019
Press Release
Letter comes as Trump admin moves to undo key Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions from U.S. drilling sites

WASHINGTON, D.C. – More than 70 members of Congress are urging the Trump administration to keep in place a key Obama-era rule that is working to keep a highly-potent pollutant, known to fuel the ongoing climate crisis, out of our atmosphere.

In a letter, led by U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette (D-CO) and co-signed by six dozen of her colleagues, the bipartisan group of lawmakers urged the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Administrator Andrew Wheeler, to withdraw his agency’s proposal to rollback a 2016 rule that now requires oil and gas producers in the U.S. to take steps to capture methane that reaches the surface at their drilling sites, instead of releasing it or burning it off.

“As you know, methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases driving climate change,” the lawmakers wrote. “The EPA’s proposed changes to the 2012 and 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for the Oil and Natural Gas Sector will, according to the EPA’s own analysis, increase air pollution from the transmission and storage of oil and gas, causing preventable damage to public health and our environment.”

Methane is over 80 times more potent than carbon dioxide and it’s a leading contributor to global warming. And, as the lawmakers noted in their letter to Wheeler, nearly 30 percent of all methane emissions in the United States come from the oil and gas sector, which led the previous administration to implement a new rule requiring oil and gas companies to take steps to curb the release of this harmful pollutant from their sites.

By trying to undo that rule now, the lawmakers said the EPA is “failing to live up to its charge of protecting the environment.”

“Tackling methane’s contribution to climate change is an easy and concrete action we can take right now,” the lawmakers wrote. “It is also an opportunity to curb increasing rates of respiratory illnesses, other negative health effects, and premature deaths. We urge you to withdraw your proposal and keep these critical public health and climate change protections in place.”

Climate experts agree that reducing methane emissions in the U.S. and elsewhere around the world is essential to addressing the ongoing climate crisis.

So, in 2016, the Obama administration put in place the EPA’s New Source Performance Standards for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry rule, which now requires any new, or newly-modified, oil and gas well in the U.S. to take the steps necessary to capture methane that reaches the surface at their drilling site.

Despite the widespread success that this rule has had in reducing methane emissions, President Trump, shortly after taking office, announced his plan to roll back the rule entirely, claiming it was placing an unnecessary cost burden on some of the nations’ largest oil-producing companies.

That claim, however, has since been contradicted by several oil and gas companies that have spoken out in support of the agency continuing to regulate methane emissions.

“The agency’s claim that its proposed changes are cost-saving measures is contradicted by companies such as Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, and Equinor,” the lawmakers wrote. “Each of these companies has spoken in support of continued EPA regulation of methane, putting the EPA at odds with the industry it is claiming to help.”

DeGette, a senior member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which oversees the EPA, introduced legislation earlier this year to codify the 2016 EPA rule into law and block the Trump administration’s attempt to undo it. That measure was included in a broader energy-related bill that the committee approved last week, and is now headed to the full House for consideration.

In addition to curbing the release of methane to help combat the climate crisis, the steps that oil and gas producers are required to take under the EPA’s current rule are helping to prevent other toxic pollutants from entering the atmosphere.

When methane is released from an oil and gas drilling site it is often accompanied by other pollutants that are known to cause various public health problems - such as reduced lung function, asthma and even cancer - for those living nearby.

A copy of the lawmakers’ letter is available here.

Following is the full text:

November 25, 2019

The Honorable Andrew Wheeler

Administrator

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

1200 Pennsylvania Ave NW

Washington, DC 20460

 

RE: EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0757 Proposed Policy Amendments to the 2012 and 2016 New Source Performance Standards for the Oil and Natural Gas Industry

Dear Administrator Wheeler:

We write to add our voices to the widespread opposition to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to reverse progress in limiting methane pollution. The EPA’s proposed changes to the 2012 and 2016 New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) for the Oil and Natural Gas Sector will, according to the EPA’s own analysis, increase air pollution from the transmission and storage of oil and gas, causing preventable damage to public health and our environment.

As you know, methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases driving climate change—84 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first two decades after its release. Nearly 30 percent of harmful methane emissions in the United States come from the oil and gas sector, a key reason for EPA’s previous actions to require oil and gas companies to curb this super-pollutant from the beginning of production.

The standards now targeted by EPA are both inexpensive and simple for industry to meet. These low-cost requirements are already seen as successful in top oil and gas producing states, such as Colorado and Wyoming, where companies have reduced methane emissions while increasing their overall profits. Leading oil and gas companies have invested millions in technologies and practices to reduce their methane emissions from facilities and equipment, and these companies are speaking out on the need for EPA methane regulation.

The proposed amendments to the NSPS would reverse the United States’ progress on this issue—taking us from forward-looking to woefully negligent. Ignoring both the public interest and benefits to industry, EPA is attempting to weaken these standards, which could allow emissions of over 340,000 metric tons of methane, over 9,000 tons of volatile organic compounds, and 270 metric tons of hazardous air pollutants in the first five years alone.

The agency’s claim that its proposed changes are cost-saving measures is contradicted by companies such as Shell, BP, ExxonMobil, and Equinor.  Each of these companies has spoken in support of continued EPA regulation of methane, putting the EPA at odds with the industry it is claiming to help.

EPA is failing to live up to its charge of protecting the environment. Instead, it is proposing to weaken a commonsense pollution standard that, combined with exempting transmission and storage facilities and weakening current standards as EPA has proposed, will result in 5 million metric tons of methane emissions each year—enough gas to heat 4 million homes.

The United States must continue to lead in reducing emissions of harmful super pollutants such as methane. Tackling methane’s contribution to climate change is an easy and concrete action we can take right now. It is also an opportunity to curb increasing rates of respiratory illnesses, other negative health effects, and premature deaths.

Thank you for your consideration. We urge you to withdraw your proposal and keep these critical public health and climate change protections in place.

Sincerely,