Obama Issues Plan to Cut Landfill Methane, Defers Decision on Oil, Gas Sector Emissions

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By Dean Scott  

March 28 --The White House unveiled a strategy March 28 to cut U.S. methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas, that will include limits for new landfills and coal mines operating on public lands.

The methane strategy, the latest step in President Barack Obama's Climate Action Plan announced in June 2013, puts off a decision on regulating methane from the oil and gas sector. The White House said the Environmental Protection Agency will continue to study that issue and decide whether to pursue rules this fall. If the rules go forward, they would be finalized by the end of 2016.

The methane limits for new landfills are to be proposed this summer, but the EPA will seek more input on whether to update its requirements for existing landfills, according to the White House announcement. Rules for existing landfills haven't been updated since 1996.

Obama also is directing the Bureau of Land Management to address methane emitted from coal mines operating on federal lands. BLM is to publish in April an advance notice of proposed rulemaking, the earliest regulatory step that requests public comments prior to proposing rules.

The methane strategy further implements the president's Climate Action Plan for cutting U.S. greenhouse gas emissions 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels.

Previously, Obama directed the EPA to pursue separate regulations to limit carbon dioxide from new and existing power plants, with a timetable that calls for finalizing both rules before the end of his second term .

Regulatory, Nonregulatory Approaches

The methane strategy also calls for moving forward on other regulatory and nonregulatory fronts, including voluntary partnerships with industries such as the dairy sector.

On the voluntary side, the EPA, the Energy Department, and the Agriculture Department in June will release a “Biogas Roadmap” in concert with the dairy industry outlining voluntary steps to encourage the industry to use methane digesters and other technologies to cut emissions from the sector by 25 percent by 2020.

But the White House strategy put off the tougher political decision of regulating the bulk of U.S. methane emissions, which come from the oil and gas sector, or emissions from most coal mines, which are operated on private land.

The BLM rules under way would cover only methane flaring from mines operating on property leased from the federal government.

Dan Utech, special assistant to the president for energy and climate, told reporters March 28 that the “question is open” on whether the EPA will ultimately proceed with rules targeting methane emitted by the oil and gas sector because it wants time to gather additional input from experts this spring.

The EPA will develop several technical white papers on the issue and in the fall will “determine the path forward,” Utech said.

Oil, Gas Well Rules Finalized

Utech noted that the EPA only recently finalized air pollution regulations for oil and gas wells. Those rules issued in 2012 require cuts in ground level ozone, air toxics and methane, although the amount of methane reductions is relatively small, equivalent to 19 million to 33 million metric tons of carbon dioxide annually.

According to a White House fact sheet, U.S. methane emissions have declined 11 percent since 1990, even with the boom over the past several years in natural gas production through use of hydraulic fracturing.

But “absent additional action” to curb methane emissions, they are projected to increase to the equivalent of 620 million tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, according to the fact sheet.


To contact the reporter on this story: Dean Scott in Washington at dscott@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at lpearl@bna.com

The White House fact sheet on the strategy to cut methane emissions is available at http://1.usa.gov/P1H9n8.

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