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Obama administration to issue rules to cut methane emissions

President Barack Obama. Evan Vucci/Associated press

WASHINGTON — In President Barack Obama’s latest move using executive authority to tackle climate change, administration officials are announcing plans this week to impose new regulations on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas.

The administration’s goal is to cut methane emissions from oil and gas production by up to 45 percent by 2025 from the levels recorded in 2012, according to an official familiar with Obama’s plans.

The Environmental Protection Agency will issue the proposed regulations this summer, and final regulations by 2016, according to the official, who was not authorized to speak about the plan. The White House declined to comment on the effort.

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The new rules are part of Obama’s push for regulations designed to cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases from different sectors of the economy. The White House says it can make the moves under the Clear Air Act.

Obama issued rules in his first term to regulate emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas, from cars and trucks. Last year, he proposed regulations on carbon dioxide from power plants.

Methane accounts for about 9 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, but it has over 20 times the planet-warming potency of carbon dioxide. It is released during the production of oil and gas, when it leaks from underground wells and pipes.

The Interior Department, in addition to the EPA regulation, is expected to propose standards by this spring that would reduce methane leaks from oil and gas wells on federal lands.

Environmental groups have urged Obama to issue the methane regulations, but the oil and gas industry has pushed back.

“Since methane dissipates in the atmosphere much faster than CO2, cutting it now can reduce warming more quickly, and help meet the key goal of preventing global temperatures from rising above dangerous tipping points,” said Paul Bledsoe, a former climate adviser in the Clinton administrations. “This is why near-term action is so important to climate protection.”

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The oil and gas industry contends that voluntary standards are enough to curb methane leaks.

“We don’t need regulation to capture it, because we are incentivized to do it,” said Howard Feldman, director of regulatory affairs for the American Petroleum Institute.

Methane is a major component of natural gas, and oil and gas companies say they are motivated to prevent leaks of the product that they sell.

“We want to bring it to market. We don’t think additional regulation is needed at this time,” Feldman said.

Oil industry officials say they will lobby to keep the regulations as loose as possible.

“You can make it a sensible, logical regulation, or you can make it an onerous regulation,” Feldman said.

The methane announcement will coincide with a series of climate change moves from the administration this summer. The EPA has said that it will also release final regulations on power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.