The Biden administration on Tuesday unveiled a set of sweeping policies to rein in methane emissions, a potent greenhouse gas far stronger than carbon dioxide, in what will be one of the nation’s most dramatic steps yet to limit the runaway effects of climate change.
Methane is the second most common greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide, and is emitted by oil and gas drilling, agriculture and landfills. It is 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide in the first 20 years after it’s released, and while it dissipates more quickly, it can dramatically warm the planet as it lingers in the atmosphere.
The policies unveiled Tuesday will include the nation’s first effort to limit methane emissions from existing oil and gas wells, the largest single source of the greenhouse gas in the nation. There are about a million such wells in the U.S. The rules would also include regular and stringent leak monitoring and require the capture of natural gas released during oil drilling that often escapes into the atmosphere, The Washington Post reported.
“It is now abundantly clear that America is back and leading by example in confronting the climate crisis with bold ambition,” EPA Administrator Michael Regan told The Associated Press.
The Obama administration attempted to limit methane emissions on new drilling sites from 2015, but those policies were rolled back by Donald Trump as part of his aggressive strategy to gut the nation’s environmental laws. Biden had vowed to restore and strengthen them, and The New York Times notes the methane plans will be a core strategy of his effort to tackle climate change.
The policies also include efforts to limit emissions from landfills and agriculture, a total package that will allow the U.S. to meet Biden’s targets to see the world reduce its methane emissions by 30% by 2030, when compared to 2020 levels. The president said Monday a coalition of 70 countries had joined that pledge, although many of the world’s biggest emitters — China, India, Russia and Brazil — have not signed on.
The president is in Glasgow, Scotland, for the United Nations’ climate change conference, COP26, where many world leaders and dignitaries hope to hash out plans to dramatically reduce greenhouse gas emissions by the end of the century and keep the planet from warming more than 1.5 degrees Celsius about pre-industrial levels.
Failure to do so, scientists have long warned, would result in an increasingly dire series of calamities, including drought, extreme weather and untold devastation for vulnerable communities worldwide.
Biden has said the U.S. will aggressively cut its emissions, hoping to slash them by 50% by the end of the decade over 2005 levels.