11/25: Today is the deadline to comment on the EPA rollback of protections against methane. The rich aren’t worried. They have bunkers.

Image: screen grab from UN video below. 

Action #1: Write a comment to prevent the fossil fuel industry’s ploy to rollback methane standards. Deadline: Monday, 11/25, 11:59 pm EST.

Today is your last chance to comment on the administration’s proposed rollback of regulations on the fossil fuel industry’s handling of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. Many of us have wondered why they keep undoing our environmental protections…don’t the human beings behind these actions – rollbacks that will continue to drive pollution and global warming, care about themselves and the world their children and grandchildren will inherit?

Are they so wealthy that concerns about clean air and water are beneath them? Yes, actually… for an estimated 5 years, if they can make it to their climate-change-proof bunker in time.

Despite orchestrating deceptive campaigns for decades to make average Americans doubt the existence of global warming, our billionaire class knows the truth and are making plans. We are cordially NOT invited to join them.

  • Write your comment here.
  • Read their rollback proposal and specious reasoning here.
  • Read other comments for inspiration here. As always, commenters, DO NOT COPY OTHER COMMENTS, use pre-written comments from websites or sign petitions. The government searches out and destroys identical comments and only counts petitions as (1) signature.
  • Deeper dive into the methane regulation rollback and other interesting information below.

Action #2: Call your legislators and get them to stand up against this abuse of our regulatory agencies and our environmental protections.

Minimal script: I’m calling from [zip code] and I want to know exactly what [Rep./Sen] is doing to stop the administration’s accretionary attacks on our environment through the regulatory process. I also want to know if he/she owns a doomsday bunker to protect their own families from the results of decades of deliberate lying by their fossil fuel industry donors while allowing them to harm mine.

Contact:
Rep. Julia Brownley: (CA-26): DC (202) 225-5811, Oxnard (805) 379-1779, T.O. (805) 379-1779
or Rep. Salud Carbajal: (CA-24): DC (202) 225-3601, SB (805) 730-1710 SLO (805) 546-8348
Senator Feinstein: email, DC (202) 224-3841, LA (310) 914-7300, SF (415) 393-0707, SD (619) 231-9712, Fresno (559) 485-7430
and Senator Harris: email, DC (202) 224-3553, LA (213) 894-5000, SAC (916) 448-2787, Fresno (559) 497-5109, SF (415) 355-9041, SD (619) 239-3884
Who is my representative/senator?: hq-salsa.wiredforchange.com 

Deeper Dive

There are five stages of grief when facing a terrible truth according to Dr. Kubler Ross  – i.e. denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Dealing with the existential threat of climate change is slightly different.

We are living with an administration that is practicing all stages at the same time, but especially #1 and #5.

  • Denial – at least to the public. Our president continues to call climate change a hoax, just another piece of a thriving industry of based on decades of deliberate misinformation from the oil, gas and coal industries. From that corrupt yet fertile ground sprouted think-tanks, and scientists-for-hire and plutocrats to deny facts that were known since the 1960’s. However, the jig is up on this one. Most people already know that climate change is real. In 2018, Washington Governor Jay Inslee stated in an interview that the ash from wildfires that covered Washington residents’ car hoods that summer, and the acrid smoke that filled their air, had made more voters of both parties grasp the real-world implications of climate change. “There is anger in my state about the administration’s failure to protect us,” he said. “When you taste it on your tongue, it’s a reality.
  • Acceptance – In 2018, the Trump administration admitted to knowing that there would be a least a 7-degree rise in global temperature by 2100. (from an environmental impact report on fuel-efficient cars.) Their new idea – dangerous climate change is now inevitable, so it’s not even worth trying to fight it. Besides, the rich have their bunkers. Although billionaires are the leading cause of climate change, it will just be the bunker-free middle-class and poor who will have to face the results head on.”The poorest half of the global population are responsible for only around 10% of global emissions yet live overwhelmingly in the countries most vulnerable to climate change – while the richest 10% of people in the world are responsible for around 50% of global emissions. (source)” (More on carbon emission inequality here.)image.png

The upshot – both are mixed into one toxic mix:

Assuming that our fate is sealed, the president, his administration and the GOP are not doing their utmost to save the planet. Their efforts are now focused on monetizing the elements of our destruction while they can. There is huge pressure from the billionaire class of fossil fuel producers and investors to do this.

“The real impact (to the environment) comes on the industrial level, as more than 70 percent of global emissions come from just 100 companies. So you, a random American consumer, exert very little pressure here. The people who are actively cranking up the global thermostat and threatening to drown 20 percent of the global population are the billionaires in the boardrooms of these companies.

There are probably no individuals who have had a more toxic impact on public and political attitudes about climate change than the Koch brothers, and it would take an absurd amount of space to document all the money and organizations they’ve scraped together for that purpose. (Investigative reporter Jane Mayer’s groundbreaking Dark Money does basically that.) And they have every reason to: In her book, Mayer notes that “Koch Industries alone routinely released some 24 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere a year.” (gq.com)

Therefore, Trump issued his “Presidential Executive Order on Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth,” which directs that “[t]he heads of agencies shall review all existing regulations… that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources, with particular attention to oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.” Here’s a nice compact review of what this looks like.

From the NY Times article, the following are completed rollbacks just on air pollution and emissions.

  • Canceled a requirement for oil and gas companies to report methane emissions. Environmental Protection Agency | Read more
  • Revised and partially repealed an Obama-era rule limiting methane emissions on public lands, including intentional venting and flaring from drilling operations. Interior Department | Read more
  • Loosened a Clinton-era rule designed to limit toxic emissions from major industrial polluters. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Stopped enforcing a 2015 rule that prohibited the use of hydrofluorocarbons, powerful greenhouse gases, in air-conditioners and refrigerators. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Repealed a requirement that state and regional authorities track tailpipe emissions from vehicles traveling on federal highways. Transportation Department | Read more
  • Reverted to a weaker 2009 pollution permitting program for new power plants and expansions. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Amended rules that govern how refineries monitor pollution in surrounding communities. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Directed agencies to stop using an Obama-era calculation of the “social cost of carbon” that rulemakers used to estimate the long-term economic benefits of reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Executive Order | Read more
  • Withdrew guidance that federal agencies include greenhouse gas emissions inenvironmental reviews. But several district courts have ruled that emissions must be included in such reviews. Executive Order; Council on Environmental Quality | Read more
  • Lifted a summertime ban on the use of E15, a gasoline blend made of 15 percent ethanol. (Burning gasoline with a higher concentration of ethanol in hot conditions increases smog.) E.P.A. | Read more

These are the ones “in-process” of rollback. Today’s issues is the first one.

  • Proposed rules to end federal requirements that oil and gas companies install technology to inspect for and fix methane leaks from wells, pipelines and storage facilities. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed weakening Obama-era fuel-economy standards for cars and light trucks. The proposal also challenges California’s right to set its own more stringent standards, which other states can choose to follow. E.P.A. and Transportation Department | Read mor
  • Announced intent to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement. (The process of withdrawing cannot be completed until 2020.) Executive Order | Read more
  • Proposed repeal of the Clean Power Plan, which would have set strict limits on carbon emissions from coal- and gas-fired power plants. In April 2019, the E.P.A. sent a replacement plan, which would let states set their own rules, to the White House for budget review. Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed eliminating Obama-era restrictions that in effect required newly built coal power plants to capture carbon dioxide emissions. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed a legal justification for weakening an Obama-era rule that limited mercury emissions from coal power plants. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed revisions to standards for carbon dioxide emissions from new, modified and reconstructed power plants. Executive Order; E.P.A. | Read more
  • Began review of emissions rules for power plant start-ups, shutdowns and malfunctions. In April, the E.P.A. filed an order reversing a requirement that 36 states follow the emissions rule. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed relaxing Obama-era requirements that companies monitor and repair methane leaks at oil and gas facilities. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed changing rules aimed at cutting methane emissions from landfills. In May, 2019, a federal judge ruled against the E.P.A. for failing to enforce the existing law and gave the agency a fall deadline for finalizing state and federal rules. E.P.A. said it is reviewing the decision. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Announced a rewrite of an Obama-era rule meant to reduce air pollution in national parks and wilderness areas. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Weakened oversight of some state plans for reducing air pollution in national parks. (In Texas, the E.P.A. rejected an Obama-era plan that would have required the installation of equipment at some coal-burning power plants to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions.) E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed repealing leak-repair, maintenance and reporting requirements for large refrigeration and air conditioning systems containing hydrofluorocarbons. E.P.A. | Read more
  • Proposed limiting the ability of individuals and communities to challenge E.P.A.-issued pollution permitsbefore a panel of agency judges. E.P.A. | Read more

OK – let’s talk methane pollution.

image.png

Source: Clean Air Task Force

Big picture

What is it: “Over all, carbon dioxide is the most significant greenhouse gas, but methane is a close second. It lingers in the atmosphere for a shorter period of time but packs a bigger punch while it lasts. By some estimates, methane has 80 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years in the atmosphere. (Global warming potentials, IPCC, p.714).(NYTimes)

Methane currently makes up nearly 10 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. While methane comes from many sources, including cattle and agriculture., emissions from the oil and gas sector are the largest and most easily curbed. The oil and gas system, pictured below, is the nation’s third largest climate polluter, after vehicles and power plants, according to EPA.

What do we need to do:  Scientists have projected that the world needs to cut its overall greenhouse gas emissions nearly in half by mid-century to avert catastrophic effects from global warming. According to the EPA, methane accounted for more than 10 percent of all U.S. greenhouse gas emissions from human activities as recently as 2017. Nearly a third of those emissions were generated by the natural gas and petroleum industry.

The Clean Air Task Force estimates that current EPA new source standards, if left in place, would prevent 1.5 million tons of methane pollution in 2025 alone.

What the government is supposed to do: (NRDC) “Like it does for other industries, the Clean Air Act gives EPA the responsibility to curb methane pollution from oil and gas operations. Two Supreme Court decisions confirm EPA’s responsibility to curb climate-changing air pollution. Massachusetts v. EPA held in 2007 that “air pollutant” includes carbon dioxide, methane, and other greenhouse gases. And in American Electric Power v. Connecticut the Court concluded in 2011 that Section 111 of the Clean Air Act “speaks directly” to controlling industrial sources of climate-changing pollutants. 

Section 111 is the same part of the Clean Air Act at issue in EPA’s repeal of the Clean Power Plan. Here’s what Section 111 requires for climate-changing air pollutants:

  • Step 1:  EPA identifies industries—“categories” of sources—whose emissions “contribute significantly” to dangerous air pollution.   
  • Step 2:  EPA sets federal performance standards for new and modified (i.e., expanded) sources in each such industry, reflecting the best system of air pollution controls and taking into account health and environmental risks, control costs, and other factors. 
  • Step 3:  EPA then curbs the emissions from the industry’s existing sources, through a combination of federal performance standards and state implementing plans. 

Because the bulk of pollution from each industry comes from its existing sources, step three—the rule for existing industry—is by far the most important.

Following the Massachusetts decision, the Obama EPA determined in 2009 that carbon dioxide, methane, and four other pollutants endanger our health and well-being by driving heatwaves, storms, flooding, rising seas, and other impacts of climate change. The federal court of appeals in Washington rejected challenges to the endangerment finding by the coal industry and its allies, and the Supreme Court refused to hear their appeal. 

Obama’s EPA took the second step in 2016 by issuing methane standards for new sources in the oil and gas industry category. EPA defined the category to include oil and gas wells, gas processing plants, pipelines and compressor stations, and storage facilities. (In other words, the whole system pictured above, except for local distribution.) In the 2016 rule EPA specifically found that the methane emissions from this entire category contribute significantly to climate change. (Wheeler’s new proposal claims otherwise, but read page 35,833 of the 2016 rule for yourself.)

The 2016 rule then set standards to cut methane emissions from intentional flaring and from leaking valves, pumps, tanks, and other equipment. The rule included simple and inexpensive “leak detection and repair” requirements—companies must inspect their facilities for leaks at least every six months and fix those leaks within 30 days. 

The new source standard triggered the obligation to take step three, regulating the industry’s existing facilities, which account for the vast bulk of its methane leakage. EPA committed to get that done in 2017, with a goal of cutting the industry’s overall emissions 40-45 percent by 2025. That was less than our 2015 report recommended, but still a substantial start.”

In 2016 EPA projected that these rules—even though they cover just new sources—would cut annual methane emissions by 300,000 tons in 2020, rising to 510,000 tons in 2025. (From here on I have switched from metric tons to short tons, the unit of measurement EPA uses.) Using its 20-year global warming potential, 510,000 tons of methane is equivalent to more than 44 million tons of CO2—the annual emissions of more than 10 coal-fired power plants.

However…

What the administration wants to do:

  1. Eliminate all methane standards across the oil and gas supply chain.
  2. Exempt facilities in the transmission and storage segment from any federal standards.
  3. Prevent any future regulation of pollution from “existing” sources built before 2015.

The Trump EPA has conceded that the government has an obligation to set some standard for existing power plants but issued only a do-nothing replacement, the so-called Affordable Clean Energy rule, to fill the spaceThe EPA’s new regulation rollback would allow oil and gas operators to largely police themselves in preventing powerful greenhouse gases from leaking out of new wells, pipelines and other infrastructure. The EPA proposal describes repealing the current methane standard for new sources and never curbing methane from the industry’s much more numerous existing sources.

It also is trying to reverse the concept that the federal government has the authority to regulate methane without first making a detailed determination that it qualifies as a pollutant under the Clean Air act.

(NYTimes) Environmental advocates described the proposal as a major setback in the effort to fight climate change. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. “The Trump E.P.A. is eager to give the oil and gas industry a free pass to keep leaking enormous amounts of climate pollution into the air,” said David Doniger, a lawyer with the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. “If E.P.A. moves forward with this reckless and sinister proposal, we will see them in court.”

Under the proposal, methane, the main component of natural gas, would be only indirectly regulated. (See “duplication/redundancy” issue below) A separate but related category of gases, known as volatile organic compounds, would remain regulated under the new rule, and those curbs would have the side benefit of averting some methane emissions…

Anne Idsal, assistant administrator​ of the EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation said the agency will continue to require oil and gas companies to limit the release of what are known as “volatile organic compounds,” which include methane, but only during drilling and processing.

If they are successful: This could make it more difficult for future administrations to enact tougher restrictions on methane. Already, the Trump administration has taken several steps to limit the government’s ability to regulate other greenhouse gases in the future, including in a recently finalized rule on carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Jody Freeman, a climate adviser to President Barack Obama who now teaches at Harvard Law School, said the Trump administration’s rollback will slow down any future administration that wants to aggressively rein in methane emissions. The practical impact is that a new administration would have to start again. It hampers a new administration by adding delay.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement Thursday that the latest proposal removes “unnecessary and duplicative” regulatory burdens. The Trump administration recognizes that methane is valuable, and the industry has an incentive to minimize leaks and maximize its use.” The E.P.A.’s economic analysis of the rule estimated that it would save the oil and natural gas industry $17 million to $19 million a year. For comparison, the annual revenue of the United States oil industry as a whole typically ranges between $100 billion and $150 billion. That’s “such a small fraction of the industry total cash flow that it’s just laughable,” says Harvard University’s Steven Wofsy, a professor of atmospheric and environmental science.

More detail

Duplication/redundancy argument – old sources: (NRDCEPA Director (and fossil-fuel industry supporter) Andrew Wheeler wants to entirely repeal the methane limits already in place for new oil and gas sources and to give existing operations a permanent pass.  This is a layout of the current proposal’s argument on redundancy of methane-specific requirements versus VOC-specific ones.

  • Eliminating “Duplication”: The EPA proposal claims the 2016 methane standard is “redundant” or “duplicative” of a 2012 standard for another pollutant—volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  EPA says the VOC controls also catch methane, and that makes the methane standard unneeded. That is doubly untrue. The VOC standard doesn’t catch as much methane from new sources as the methane standard, and it doesn’t catch any methane at all from existing sources. Let’s take those in reverse order.
  • Doesn’t stop pollution from existing sources: Even if the VOC standard did as good a job curbing methane from new sources—and it does not, see below—repealing the methane standard would let the industry off the hook for curbing emissions from its existing sources. As already explained, the methane standard for new sources triggers EPA’s legal obligation to curb the even larger amount of methane coming from existing sources. The VOC rules, EPA says, do not.
  • VOC’s only regulated for smog: The EPA regulates existing sources of VOCs only under another part of the Clean Air Act that addresses ozone smog. Those requirements apply only in areas of the country with unhealthy levels of ozone smog (or areas directly upwind). As Andy Wheeler is perfectly aware, the vast majority of the nation’s oil and gas operations are located outside those ozone smog areas. So smog requirements will do nothing to cut the bulk of the industry’s methane emissions, which come from existing sources located where those smog requirements don’t apply.
  • All methane regulation on existing sources disappears:  By repealing the new source methane standard, Wheeler is trying to erase his obligation to regulate methane from existing oil and gas sources. And bulk of the industry’s climate pollution would go scot-free.
  • No, we don’t believe you: EPA offers a trio of lame excuses: that existing sources will eventually be taken care of by voluntary industry programs, state standards, and turnover of old equipment. But only some companies have voluntary programs, only a few states regulate, and old equipment will take many years to turn over. None of these is a valid reason for EPA not to do its job.

Duplication/redundancy argument – new equipment: (NRDCWheeler’s proposal to rely only on the VOC standard would allow much more methane pollution even from new equipment.

  • Methane standard more inclusive: The methane standard curbs emissions from more equipment and operations, further down the line, than the VOC standard. (More detail here.)
  • EPA’s own rule acknowledges that the VOC standard won’t curb as much methane as the standard it proposes to repeal. EPA’s own fact sheet contradicts the agency’s claims, admitting that “[T]he total cost savings reflect … the forgone value of natural gas that would not be recovered as a result of those changes.”

Regulatory shell game: (NRDCWheeler’s proposal slices the industry into independent categories – a production-and-processing category (from the well to the processing plant). There would then be a separate transmission and storage category (for pipelines taking gas from there to market and storing it until needed). To what purpose?

  • This can cover up repealing the limits on methane leaks from new equipment located downstream of the processing plant. He hopes we won’t notice the sleight of hand as he shifts that equipment into another category, which he does not propose regulate now.
  • cutting the industry into smaller pieces will raise the hurdle for a future administrator to regulate the transmission and storage segments. Under his proposal, regulating transmission and storage would require making a new “contributes significantly” finding—possibly even one such finding for transmission and another for storage.
  • The proposal asks us to comment on what it should take to find that industry segments “contribute significantly” to climate change. The proposal asks, in various ways, how small the categories can be defined, and how big a share of climate pollution they must account for in order to trigger regulation.
  • By slicing industries into pieces, and at the same time raising the bar for finding a significant contribution, EPA could have a way to give a free pass on climate pollution to other big industries. Oil refiners, chemical producers, iron and steel companies, and others are most likely watching very closely.

Adding it all up: (blogs.edf.org) “The proposal comes on the heels of a separate EPA proposal that significantly decreases company obligation to check for methane and other dangerous pollution.

If EPA is successful in adopting both proposals, it would result in an additional 5 million metric tons of preventable methane pollution annually — more than a third of total emissions from the oil and gas industry. That lost gas is enough to heat 4 million homes. Despite this massive climate pollution, EPA’s air chief Anne Idsal claims she doesn’t “see that there’s going to be some big climate concern here.

Other issues

Industry responses: Several of the world’s biggest fossil-fuel companies, including Exxon, Shell and BP, have opposed the rollback and urged the Trump administration to keep the standards in place. Collectively, these firms account for 11 percent of the nation’s natural gas output. In a statement Thursday, Shell U.S. President Gretchen Watkins noted that the company has pledged to reduce its methane leaks from its global operations to less than 0.2 percent by 2025.

Smaller operators, however, had lobbied the administration to lift the requirements. Lee Fuller, a vice president at the Independent Petroleum Association of America, said in an interview that the Obama rule had “made it really onerous on small businesses.”

Ben Ratner, a senior director at the advocacy group Environmental Defense Fund, said in an interview that rolling back the regulations could reward bad actors in the industry. Given that many major players had embraced limits on methane, Ratner added, Thursday’s proposal suggests that the Trump administration opposes regulating greenhouse gases on principle.

Environmental harms: Idsal said the administration is confident that methane emissions will continue to decline over time, even without the current regulations. “We don’t preclude anybody from going above and beyond, if they think that’s what they need to do from a business and a compliance standpoint,” she said.

From the regulation.gov proposal:  “The EPA estimated that over the 2019 to 2025 time frame, relative to the 2018 Proposed Regulatory baseline, the primary proposal would increase methane emissions by about 350,000 short tons, VOC emissions by about 9,700 tons, and 290 tons of HAP from facilities affected by this review. Under the Current Regulatory baseline, the EPA estimated that over the 2019 to 2025 time frame, the primary proposal would increase methane emissions by about 370,000 short tons VOC emissions by about 10,000 tons, and 300 tons of HAP from facilities affected by this review.

Under the alternative proposal, because the methane control options are redundant with VOC control options, (see above description of why this isn’t true) there are no expected emission impacts from rescinding the methane requirement, relative to either of the 2018 Proposed Regulatory or the Current Regulatory baselines.”

Health harms: From the regulation.gov proposal:Under the primary proposal, the EPA expects that the forgone VOC emission reductions will degrade air quality and are likely to adversely affect health and welfare associated with exposure to ozone, PM 2.5, and HAP, but we are unable to quantify these effects at this time. This omission should not imply that these forgone benefits do not exist, and to the extent that EPA were to quantify these ozone and PM impacts, it would estimate the number and value of avoided premature deaths and illnesses using an approach detailed in the Particulate Matter NAAQS and Ozone NAAQS Regulatory Impact Analyses (U.S. EPA, 2012; U.S. EPA, 2015).

Reading

  • A compelling case for eating the rich to save the planet (pollybarks.com)
  • Holding major fossil fuel companies accountable for nearly 40 years of climate deception and harm (ucusa.org)
  • Coal knew too (Mother Jones)
  • Shell and Exxon’s secret 1980’s climate change warnings (guardian)
  • Why tech billionaires are buying luxury doomsday bunkers in New Zealand.(big think)
  • Stop EPA’s latest assault on our health and our planet: Oppose weakening of EPA’s methane rule.(waterkeeper.org)
  • The three most important graphs in climate change (medium)

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