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US in plans to ease methane rules

Energy sector hails proposed changes

Washington: The Trump administration, taking its third major step this year to roll back federal efforts to fight climate change, is preparing to make it significantly easier for energy companies to release methane into the atmosphere.

Methane, which is among the most powerful greenhouse gases, routinely leaks from oil and gas wells, and energy companies have long said that the rules requiring them to test for emissions were costly and burdensome.

The Environmental Protection Agency, perhaps as soon as this week, plans to make public a proposal to weaken an Obama-era requirement that companies monitor and repair methane leaks, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

In a related move, the interior department is also expected in coming days to release its final version of a draft rule, proposed in February, that essentially repeals a restriction on the intentional venting and "flaring", or burning, of methane from drilling operations.

The new rules follow two regulatory rollbacks this year that, taken together, represent the foundation of the US' effort to rein in global warming. In July, the EPA proposed weakening a rule on carbon dioxide pollution from vehicle tailpipes. And in August, the agency proposed replacing the rule on carbon dioxide pollution from coal-fired power plants with a weaker one that would allow far more global-warming emissions to flow unchecked from the nation's smokestacks.

"They're taking them down, one by one," said Janet McCabe, the EPA's top climate and clean-air regulator in the Obama administration.

Officials from the EPA, the interior department and the White House did not respond to emails and telephone calls seeking comment.

Industry groups praised the expected changes. "It's a neat pair" of proposals on methane, said Kathleen Sgamma, president of the Western Energy Alliance, an association of independent oil and gas companies that is based in Denver. The Obama-era EPA methane rule, she said, "was the definition of red tape. It was a record-keeping nightmare that was technically impossible to execute in the field".

Sgamma praised the Trump administration for turning the oil companies' requests into policy, noting that the Obama administration frequently turned proposals from environmental groups into policy. "It all depends on who you trust," she said. "That administration trusted environmentalists. This one trusts industry."

The regulation of methane, while not as widely discussed as emissions from cars and coal plants, was nonetheless a major component of Obama's efforts to combat climate change. Methane makes up only about nine per cent of greenhouse gases, but it is around 25 times more effective than carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

About one-third of methane pollution is estimated to come from oil and gas operations.

New York Times News Service

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