Commentary: Rep. Diana DeGette (D-Colo.) today introduced the Methane Waste Prevention Act of 2019, presenting a Democratic approach to reducing toxic and climate-warming emissions from oil and gas operations by restoring methane waste rules President Trump canceled and moved to weaken in September 2018. The bill’s original cosponsors include Assistant Speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), Natural Resources Committee Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Natural Resources Committee Vice Chair Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), and Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee Chair Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.).
The bill requires the Department of Interior to reduce the waste of natural gas via venting, flaring, and leaks on public lands, and to establish more stringent requirements for reporting natural gas production and disposition volumes. The Obama administration found, when it established the rules Trump recently reversed, that venting of methane cost taxpayers more than $330 million a year in lost revenue from natural gas. The bill also codifies the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2016 updates to its New Source Performance Standards that curb methane emissions from oil and gas operations.
As Reuters reported on Sept. 18, 2018:
Methane is a major force in short-term global warming because it has more than 80 times the heat-trapping potential of carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it escapes into the atmosphere, scientists say. The oil and gas business is the largest single source of the emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.
Over the last decade, as U.S. oil and gas production has dramatically increased, so too have emissions of methane and other air pollutants from fossil fuel development. Methane flaring on public lands contributes to climate change, wastes a valuable public resource, and damages public health. Methane has approximately 25 times the warming power of carbon dioxide over a 100-year period.
In April, the House Natural Resources Committee held a field hearing in Santa Fe, N.M., to hear and see firsthand the health and environmental impacts of the Trump administration’s decision to loosen methane pollution standards. New Mexico’s methane emissions are the highest of any state in the country.
During the trip, lawmakers toured Chaco Culture National Historical Park to hear from tribal and elected leaders about the risks to the sacred site from nearby oil and gas drilling. A video highlighting lessons learned from that trip, including the severity of regional public health and air quality impacts, is available here.
“The consequences from unabated methane emissions in New Mexico harm my constituents’ health, our environment, and New Mexico’s economy. In New Mexico alone, the flaring, venting, and leaking lead to the loss of $275 million worth of natural gas every year," Luján said. "I am proud to support legislation that builds on the Obama Administration’s EPA and BLM methane rules to drive down emissions while improving the measuring, reporting, and transparency requirements of oil and gas operations on public lands."
“If we’re going to be serious about fixing the climate crisis, we have to be serious about curbing the release of methane into the atmosphere,” DeGette said. “We should be capturing and using this extremely valuable resource, not allowing the worst actors in the oil and gas industry to release it into the atmosphere where it’s going to harm future generations.”
“Last month my colleagues and I saw with our own eyes just how much poisonous methane oil and gas projects are spewing into New Mexico’s air, and we agreed that enough is enough,” Grijalva said. “Fossil fuel companies are inflicting severe public health and environmental damage in the name of economic progress and lying about the consequences. Communities shouldn’t have to accept higher risks of cancer and toxic exposure as the price of being employed in our economy. This bill is a necessary step in the process of restoring some balance to an out-of-control industry.”
“We all deserve to breathe clean air and to be free from the health effects that methane pollution can cause,”Haaland said. “However, when I toured drilling sites near Chaco Canyon, it was clear that many people in New Mexico are breathing in air poisoned by methane emissions released by oil and gas companies. We’re taking a stand for our communities and demanding big companies put people over polluters while reducing the impact of our public lands on the climate.”
“Methane is a particularly potent greenhouse gas that is harmful to our climate, environment, and public health,”Lowenthal said. “Hundreds of billions of tons of methane from public lands oil and gas development have been wasted just in the last decade. Methane emissions vented, flared, or leaked, is not only a harmful pollutant but is also a wasted natural energy source. We must limit methane emissions and increase the transparency around energy production to better account for the loss of this resource.”
The bill is supported by a wide range of environmental groups.
“Earthjustice applauds Representatives DeGette, Grijalva, Luján, Haaland and Lowenthal for standing up for strong safeguards to protect our health and our climate from harmful methane pollution. It’s time to put people over polluters and hold the oil and gas industry accountable.” - Jessica Ennis, Legislative Director for Climate & Energy, at Earthjustice
“Cutting methane from the oil and gas industry is one of the fastest, easiest and most cost-effective things we can do to address the impacts of climate change that are happening all around us today. While the Trump Administration panders to the most poorly operated companies in the industry, Congresswoman DeGette and the other bill sponsors are demonstrating real leadership by prioritizing public health, taxpayers and a healthy climate.” - Matt Watson, Vice President, Energy at the Environmental Defense Fund
“Methane is a super pollutant with a warming potential that is 86 times greater than carbon dioxide. It is critical we take action to address the immense harm such a pollutant causes to the health of the public and the environment. Public lands should be part of the climate solution, not part of the problem. We applaud Representatives DeGette, Grijalva, Luján, Haaland and Lowenthal for stepping up where the Trump administration has utterly failed in addressing the serious problem of methane pollution on our public lands.” - Jenny Kordick, Advocacy Director at The Wilderness Society
“Over the past two years, this administration has done everything in its power to rollback regulations set in place to protect our national parks and public lands from the harmful impacts of methane waste associated with oil and gas development. The National Parks Conservation Association commends the introduction of legislation focused on reinstating commonsense, responsible regulations on oil and gas development. While more must be done to reduce pollution from this sector, this bill is good news for public health, our national parks, and the planet.” - Matt Kirby, Director, Energy and Landscape Conservation at the National Parks Conservation Association
"The first rule of getting out of a hole is to stop digging. Congresswoman DeGette’s bill would stop the Trump Administration from digging towards climate catastrophe by reversing Environmental Protection Agency and Bureau of Land Management rollbacks of safeguards that cut oil and gas industry climate pollution." - Lauren Pagel, Policy Director at Earthworks
“Methane pollution from the oil and gas industry poses a dire threat to our climate and communities. The Trump administration has repeatedly abdicated its duty to address that threat, instead attempting to give fossil fuel companies free rein to pollute as much as they want with no regard for the climate or public health. This legislation is an important step towards restoring commonsense methane pollution safeguards, and we applaud Representatives DeGette, Grijalva, Luján, Haaland, and Lowenthal for their leadership in protecting our families from dangerous air pollution.” - Matthew Gravatt, Associate Legislative Director at Sierra Club