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Opinion: It’s time to recommit to controlling methane emissions to combat climate change

We need urgent action to curb oil and gas pollutants that threaten our health, especially for those living closest to development.

Eric Edwards uses a device to detect methane escaping the ground near a methane capture power production facility at the former site of the Elk Creek coal mine outside Somerset Colo., Monday January 25, 2021. (William Woody, Special to The Colorado Sun)

Coloradans have been at the forefront of curbing methane waste and pollution from oil and gas operations and their impact on public health and climate change. So it should come as no surprise the Sens. Michael Bennet and John Hickenlooper and Rep. Diana DeGette are playing lead roles in advancing federal methane policy.

Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is responsible for about 25% of the climate change we’re experiencing today. The impacts of climate change here in the West include intense wildfires, longer wildfire seasons, persistent drought, an increase in pests carrying vector-borne diseases, lower livestock and crop yields, and severe weather events.

Dan Grossman

In 2014, under the leadership of then-Gov. Hickenlooper, Colorado became the first state in the nation to regulate methane emissions from the oil and gas sector. Since then, we have prevented millions of tons of pollution from contaminating our air and climate while industry has continued to prosper. In fact, industry and environmentalists came together and strengthened Colorado’s methane rules three times in the ensuing years.

The Colorado story on methane was so compelling, that in 2016 the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency cribbed from our rules to craft a comprehensive policy for operators across the country. 

Like its Colorado predecessor, the EPA program centered on a common-sense requirement that oil and gas companies inspect their equipment for leaks on a regular basis and fix those leaks expeditiously. Because fixing leaks means more gas in the sales line, most oil and gas operators easily complied with the new requirements for new and modified facilities without complaint or fanfare.

Inexplicably, and over the objections of environmentalists and even many leading oil and gas companies, the Trump EPA rolled back the methane rule in September 2020. The new policy wrote methane out of the oil and gas air regulations and completely exempted the pipelines and other equipment in the transmission and storage segment of the natural gas supply chain.

The Biden administration has already signaled its intent to return to sensible methane policy by directing the EPA to unravel the Trump rollbacks. But because of the highly problematic and legally questionable findings and conclusions codified by the Trump EPA, that process could be complicated and time-consuming.

But Congress, by using the Congressional Review Act, can rescind the Trump rule and provide the Biden EPA a clean slate to get methane regulation back on track and address pollution from new and existing oil and gas facilities.

In March, Rep. DeGette and Sen. Martin Heinrich (D-New Mexico) introduced resolutions that would invoke the CRA to rescind the Trump rule. And on April 28, Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper helped pass the resolution on a rare bipartisan Senate vote.

Sen. Bennet had this to say about the vote’s importance: “This important methane policy to us on the bipartisan course we need to create if we’re going to have durable climate change policy in this country and if America is going to lead the world.”

This is the urgent action we need to curb oil and gas pollution like methane and other toxic pollutants that threaten our health, especially for those living closest to development. When methane is released into the air, so are toxic pollutants, like benzene (a known human carcinogen), and smog-forming pollutants that can trigger asthma.

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Support for reducing oil and gas methane waste is widespread and bipartisan. Even leading oil and gas companies and organizations including Shell, BP, Equinor, EQT, Total, Jonah Energy, Cheniere, Occidental Petroleum,  Equitrans Midstream, and the Interstate Natural Gas Association of America all support using the Congressional Review Act to rescind the problematic policies adopted by the previous administration.

I applaud our leaders in Washington for taking this crucial step to reinstate vital climate and clean air protections, and clear a thicket of red tape that would otherwise delay EPA from tightening these standards and reign in oil and gas pollution.

It’s time to get regulation of methane from the oil and gas industry back on track, and I commend Sens. Bennet and Hickenlooper for their votes and urge other members of the state’s delegation to join Rep. DeGette as part of the growing chorus of support for this resolution.


Dan Grossman is the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior director of state advocacy for EDF’s Energy Program and a former Colorado state senator from Denver.


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