By FRANCES LAMBERTS
Fifteen years ago, Johnson City made productive use of the methane from its Iris Glen landfill. Vented before that, the city contracted to have the gas piped to Mountain Home, there to add to the electricity and heating-cooling needs of the Veterans Administration facility.
Methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, 85 times more dangerous than carbon dioxide for the climate in the short term. Through capturing it, the city kept thousands of tons of greenhouse gas out of the atmosphere.
The Trump administration is rolling back two Obama-era methane rules.
In 2016, the Environmental Protection Agency, under authority of the Clean Air Act, promulgated a standard for control of methane emissions from new or modified sources in the oil and gas sector, and related, smog-forming pollutants that can cause heart and lung illness and harm children’s health, particularly. The standard requires controlling the release of methane into the air, and regular leakage inspections of equipment and wells.
In another rule, applicable to the federal and tribal lands, the Bureau of Land Management issued a Methane Waste Prevention Rule. This also required leakage monitoring and capturing of methane, to reduce greenhouse-gas and health-harming emissions. Where its capture is deemed technically infeasible, royalties on wasted (vented) methane were to give “a fair return on public resources for federal taxpayers.”
Reportedly for many years, Johnson City received more than $300,000 annually from its project. The federal Waste Prevention Rule would save enough methane gas to supply the electricity for around 740,000 households. Its annual net financial benefits would be up to $400 million, and of royalties to the taxpayer for gas not captured, of up to $10 million.
In September, The Hill (Congressional website) announced proposed weakening of the EPA methane rule. The “new Trump rule,” it said, would increase methane emissions by about 380,000 tons by 2025 and “also increase public exposure to ozone pollution and hazardous air pollutants.” It would save the industry approximately $75 million annually, through canceling “unnessary burdens.”
The Hill article further noted that “the oil and gas industry has made an all-out push to make this (promise by Mr. Trump, during the 2016 campaign) a reality.”
In revoking this and other environmental protection rules, the industry and Mr. Trump seem to have a very strong ally in a Tennessee candidate for the US Senate. In the US House since the 2016 election, Marsha Blackburn has voted, among other anti-environment measures, to nullify the methane-waste and stream protection rules, delay clean-air ozone regulation, and opposed measures, such as carbon pricing, to prevent further climate deterioration.
Almost all (98 percent) comments from the public had urged retention of the now repealed Methane Waste Prevention Rule.
For the administration’s newly proposed, EPA methane rule weakening, citizens can weigh in, under Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OAR-2017-0483, at firstname.lastname@example.org, until Dec. 17.
According to Harvard University’s Environmental Law program, more than 40 environmental regulatory rollbacks have occurred under this administration. Although confirming her legislative record, Ms Blackburn’s “I will work with President Trump every step of the way” has ominous implications for public and climate health.