Restricting methane emissions is one of the smartest ways the United States can reduce greenhouse gases and ensure air quality — and watching Congress become involved in this effort is a sign the country is taking the climate crisis seriously.
Both the House and Senate are considering joint resolutions that would reinstate important climate and clean air protections — enabling the Environmental Protection Agency to do its job. If passed, the measures would allow the agency to tighten standards on infrastructure responsible for 75 percent of the oil and gas industry’s methane pollution problem.
This is an important reversal of the Trump administration’s relaxation of rules that had been adopted in 2016 — and in the Senate at least, support for regulating methane pollution is going to be bipartisan, with Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine announcing she supports reducing methane emissions.
New Mexico Sens. Martin Heinrich and Ben Ray Luján strongly back the limits, as does U.S. Rep. Teresa Leger Fernández. All are Democrats. Leger Fernández has introduced legislation to clean up some 56,000 orphan wells across the country that leak methane. The Senate vote is expected this week.
However the votes are counted, they will allow Americans to see where their members of Congress stand on climate. Do they recognize the crisis, or are they in denial? In this battle, no one can be left on the sidelines. The future of the planet is at stake, and Americans deserve representatives who recognize the urgency of this moment.
Curbing these emissions is both good for the environment and good for the bottom line; recapturing the escaped gases means a valuable resource is no longer being wasted. Methane, a large component of natural gas, can be captured and sold.
If the past four years were giant reversals in the efforts to come to grips with climate crisis — including reducing greenhouse gases — approving these resolutions would be strong indications the U.S. understands the severity of the situation and is willing to act.
Obama-era EPA regulations were designed to reduce methane emissions from oil and gas operators, including requiring equipment to be regularly inspected for leaks — and those leaks to be repaired. In 2020, EPA regulators reversed course and excluded methane from the rules while also exempting large portions of the supply chain from regulation.
Even many in the industry opposed the reversal; that’s how accepted the need to reduce methane emissions has become. We have seen states such as Colorado — and now, New Mexico — take the lead in regulating methane emissions. But consistent federal standards will mean a concerted effort across the country to improve the quality of air.
Now, the House and Senate have the ability to make it easier for the EPA to reverse the 2020 rule by invoking the Congressional Review Act. Using the review act allows a Congress to overturn what it sees as objectionable rules finished in the last days of an outgoing administration without having to go through another burdensome rule-making process. If the resolutions pass, the EPA can adopt stricter regulations to restrict methane and address problems with equipment.
The American Petroleum Institute, an industry lobbying group, wants to work on new rules with the EPA, pointing out that the more methane is captured, the more gas can be sold. There’s potential for new jobs in inspection and capping wells, too. All of this means these measures are economically and environmentally sound.
The bottom line is this: Cut methane emissions and slow the rate of global warming.
It’s that simple — and that urgent.