The Environmental Protection Agency is proposing to undo Obama-era regulations on the emissions of methane gas, and the goal is to save oil and natural gas producers $123 million over the next several years.
However, Vermont’s main natural gas provider, Vermont Gas, isn’t on board.
In 2016, the Obama administration set limits to methane emissions after it was observed that emissions were rising with the use of hydraulic fracking to extract natural gas. The EPA is now allowing a 60-day public comment period to review the changes.
The new rule was initiated by an executive order by President Donald Trump. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler praised the move.
“EPA’s proposal delivers on President Trump’s executive order and removes unnecessary and duplicative regulatory burdens from the oil and gas industry,” he said.
“The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use. Since 1990, natural gas production in the United States has almost doubled while methane emissions across the natural gas industry have fallen by nearly 15 percent. Our regulations should not stifle this innovation and progress.”
Vermont Gas, based in Burlington, is attacking the move.
“We are disappointed that the Environment Protection Agency is proposing a rule change that will roll back methane emission regulations,” Vermont Gas President Don Rendall said in a statement. “We are committed to addressing the challenges of climate change and we believe natural gas must play a pivotal role. We share our customers’ goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in support of Vermont’s 90 percent renewable energy by 2050 goal.”
Asked by True North what the economic impacts on Vermonters will be by adhering to the Obama-era restrictions, VGS did not comment.
However, the EPA is saying the new changes will benefit the economy, both nationally and in states.
“EPA’s proposed amendments to its New Source Performance Standards would remove regulatory duplication and save millions of dollars in regulatory costs a year while maintaining health and environmental protection from oil and gas sources that the agency considers appropriate to regulate,” an EPA spokesperson told True North in an email. “The Regulatory Impact Analysis for the proposal estimates that the proposed amendments would save $17-$19 million a year, for a total of $97-$123 million from 2019 through 2025.”
Some estimates have the savings much higher than that.
“Scaling back the never-implemented Obama rule is expected to save $1.3 billion to $1.6 billion over 10 years in costs to oil-and-gas companies, most of which would have been passed on to consumers, while generating an economic benefit of $734 million to $1 billion,” a Washington Times report states.
That hasn’t stopped green-first politicians such as U.S. House Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone Jr., D-N.J., from attacking the move.
“Even for an administration with a pattern of catering to corporate polluters, the proposal to eliminate federal government requirements limiting methane emissions is wildly irresponsible and reckless,” he said in a statement. He further states that Exxon, Shell, and BP America are all planning to stick to the more rigorous standards.
Others are supporting the measure. The Heritage Foundation’s Nick Loris in a statement called the Obama-era rules a “nonsolution in search of a problem.”
Loris continued that energy producers already have the incentive to capture and sell methane, so there’s already an effort to keep emissions down. He added that the EPA figures methane emissions have fallen while energy production “has skyrocketed.”
Some politicians supporting the measure include all members of Wyoming’s Washington delegation, including U.S. Republican Sens. Mike Enzi and John Barrasso and Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney.
“The current methane venting and flaring rules created under the Obama Administration were excessive and overly burdensome,” Enzi said. “I appreciate that the Trump Administration is continuing to review old regulations, and update them where necessary, to help ensure that we do not improperly burden our country’s energy development.
“We in Wyoming know the benefit that oil and gas development can have our community, and I look forward to reviewing the draft rule in full.”
Nonetheless, Vermont Gas has doubled down on its green mantra.
“We believe in strong environmental regulation and enforcement at the Federal level. We actively supported adoption of the current methane emission rules in 2015,” Rendall said. “We urge the EPA to keep and enforce them.”