President Joe Biden on June 30 signed into law a bill overturning a Trump-era environmental rule that eased restrictions on methane emissions from oil and gas drilling.
Called S.J.Res. 14, the joint resolution nullifies the “Oil and Natural Gas Sector: Emission Standards for New, Reconstructed, and Modified Sources Review” rule published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Sept. 14, 2020.
The Trump administration rule eliminated more stringent Obama-era regulations around the emissions of methane, a gas that scientists have said traps the earth’s heat. The EPA says methane has a “global warming potential” up to 36 times greater than carbon dioxide over 100 years.
Democrats and environmentalists opposed President Donald Trump’s methane rule and said its removal would help the Biden administration to tackle climate change.
“We’ve learned that methane is even more dangerous to the climate than we knew back then, in 2016—trapping much more heat” than carbon dioxide, Biden said in remarks upon signing the bill, which he called “an important first step of cutting methane pollution.”
When the joint resolution was under consideration by Congress, it drew opposition from several Republicans, who said the measure unfairly took aim at oil and gas companies that were already working to reduce emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases.
Rep. Pete Stauber (R-Minn.) said the repeal measure advanced “radical activist priorities” while empowering foreign oil producers at the expense of domestic production.
Rep. Yvette Herrell (R-N.M.) said the resolution would “nickel and dime the most essential [businesses]” in her district, the oil and gas producers, which she said could be driven out of business by excessive government regulations.
In 2016, the EPA curbed methane emissions at facilities built or modified since 2015, requiring companies to deploy technology to detect and fix methane leaks at oil and gas wells. While some large energy companies have embraced methane capture as a way to save money and promote natural gas as a cleaner option than coal in the nation’s power plants, smaller companies have argued the requirements are too expensive for them.
When the Trump administration in 2019 announced its proposed methane emissions rule change, officials estimated the rollback of the Obama-era restrictions would save the oil industry tens of millions of dollars a year in compliance costs.
In August 2020, then-EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler said the rollback delivered on Trump’s 2017 executive order to promote energy independence and economic growth.
“EPA has been working hard to fulfill President Trump’s promise to cut burdensome and ineffective regulations for our domestic energy industry,” Wheeler said at the time.
While the oil and gas lobby initially fought methane regulations, it has recently eased up on the effort, as have major oil and gas producers, as they face pressure from investors on climate issues.
“Keeping methane in the pipes is good for the planet and for business,” said Mary Streett, senior vice president of BP’s U.S. communications and advocacy, in remarks to The Wall Street Journal. “It means that we can sell it as a cleaner fuel source rather than losing it.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.