The Kate sets the record straight on why the EPA’s proposed power plant CO 2 emissions go easy on methane. Because power plant rules per se don’t address methane. . . they address power plants. Not for nothing is she The Kate.
“On June 2nd, EPA released highly publicized proposed new rules to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuel-fired power plants. While many touted the rules as a crucial step in addressing the climate change crisis, others criticized them for not being aggressive enough. One particular question that has been raised is why the rules focus only on emissions of carbon dioxide and do not include methane – a much more potent greenhouse gas and one which is emitted in substantial amounts through the oil and gas production and distribution processes?
The answer is actually pretty straightforward. Under the Clean Air Act, EPA is authorized to regulate emissions of pollutants from different sectors of the economy. The proposed rules released on June 2nd would regulate emissions from the power plant sector – from which methane is not emitted to any meaningful extent. Simply put, there is no place in these rules to tackle emissions from so-called “upstream” production of oil and gas.
There is, however, another vehicle for doing so, which is via EPA’s rules that regulate pollutant emissions from the oil and gas sector (the sector in which those fuels are produced, as opposed to the power plant sector, where they get burned). Although EPA currently regulates emissions from that sector, its rules do not include methane. This past spring, EPA released a series of white papers as the first step in the agency’s process for deciding how to cut the huge amounts of methane pollution coming from the oil and gas sector, a process announced in March by President Obama in his Climate Action Plan (of which the power plant rules are a second major component). We and our partners have submitted substantial comments on the white papers, urging the Administration to move forward immediately with strong methane-curbing standards for the oil and gas sector.
To use a really terrible metaphor, this is a situation of apples and oranges, where the apples are the power plant rules and the oranges are the methane rules. If done right, they can come together to create one beautiful, climate change-fighting fruit salad. To get that result, the power plant rules need to be made even stronger, and EPA needs to promulgate the strongest possible rules to capture methane emissions.
One important question that remains is what to do about methane emissions associated with natural gas used primarily for heating (as opposed to generating electricity from power plants), often referred to as “past the city gates”? Although actual measurements remain scant, it is likely that this is an even greater source of methane emissions than those associated with upstream production – primarily because of the systems of old, leaky pipes that transport the gas beneath city streets. The Department of Energy will soon culminate a multi-agency review process and series of stakeholder roundtables – convened pursuant to the Climate Action Plan – to “assess current emissions data and address data gaps, identify technologies and best practices for reducing emissions, and identify existing authorities and incentive-based opportunities for reducing methane emissions.” It is hoped that a strategy for tackling the major methane emissions from beyond the city gates will emerge from that process.
Taken together, and gotten right, these complementary sets of rules can make a major contribution to cutting our nation’s dangerous, and untenable, emissions of greenhouse gases. Given how critical U.S. leadership is to tackling this issue globally, it is imperative that we do so – and that we do so now.”
National Resource Defense Council