Leave it to the Trump administration to see an environmental success as a problem.
Over the last three decades, a rare climate bright spot in the United States has been the nation’s steady reduction in emissions of methane, which accounts for about 10 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions.
Methane isn’t as well known as carbon dioxide, the more common greenhouse gas, and it doesn’t last for centuries in the atmosphere the way that CO2 does. But the gas, which is generated by agriculture, coal mining, the oil and gas industry, landfills, and other sources, packs a far stronger planet-warming punch for the few decades before it dissipates.
The gas is also the main component of natural gas, and that adds an important economic wrinkle. Methane that leaks into the atmosphere isn’t just an environmental threat. It’s also wasted energy.
Since 1990, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, the nation’s methane emissions have declined by more than 15 percent, mostly because of progress reducing emissions from landfills, coal mining, and oil and gas operations. That’s especially notable because domestic oil and gas production skyrocketed during the same time frame.
In other words, the oil and gas industry can do just fine while also taking steps to limit its methane emissions.
What a responsible presidential administration would do is build on that progress, while also looking for ways to tackle methane in the agricultural sector, where emissions have actually gone up since 1990, according to the EPA.
Instead the Trump administration, bowing to the demands of small oil and gas companies, wants to roll back common-sense regulations that require the companies to plug leaks, inspect wells and pipelines, and install technology to prevent methane emissions.
Some of the biggest oil and gas giants, including Exxon, Shell, and BP, had lobbied to keep the current rules or even expand them.
Independent producers, though, say they don’t have the resources of Big Oil to comply with the regulations. And now the Trump administration has taken their side, proposing to eliminate the methane rules.
Those companies will still have some economic incentive to limit methane leaks — natural gas is worth money, after all — but that’s clearly not enough.
Maybe — hopefully — the Trump administration will implement the methane rollback with its usual incompetence, leaving the change vulnerable to legal challenges. In the meantime, the big oil and gas companies ought to follow the lead of America’s automakers. The administration also wants to eliminate Obama-era rules requiring carmakers to improve mileage in new vehicles, but auto giants have said they’ll keep raising mileage anyway.
Since methane has economic value, limiting the amount that is wasted ought to be just about the easiest and least controversial climate policy. But the fact that the country has managed to cut methane emissions with no noticeable economic impact apparently means nothing to an administration that seems almost to takes pleasure in harming the global environment.