Another Giveaway to Polluters From the Trump EPA

It was a sweltering day in Pittsburgh last week, 10 degrees warmer than average for the time of year, when the head of the Trump Environmental Protection Agency stood before a roomful of Republican officials and announced plans to make it even hotter.

He didn’t use exactly those words, but it amounts to the same thing. EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, said he was freeing oil and gas companies from “burdensome and ineffective regulations.” By rolling back an Obama-era policy designed to curb gas leaks at pipelines and wells, the EPA administrator was essentially giving energy companies the go-ahead to release much more climate-warming methane into the atmosphere.

Methane is an invisible, odorless gas that can trap heat in the atmosphere 80 times more effectively than carbon dioxide. Leaking pipelines, wells and storage facilities are a major source of methane emissions, which is why the Obama administration, in 2016, pushed energy firms to find and fix those leaks. The Trump administration officially undid those requirements on Thursday.

Contrary to the EPA administrator’s claims, the Obama-era rules were neither ineffective nor especially burdensome. Indeed, many big energy firms — knowing a public-relations disaster when they see one — have joined environmentalists in protesting the rollback. Smaller firms with narrower profit margins will, it is true, benefit from reduced compliance costs. But there’s little sense in bailing them out if that imposes environmental costs on everyone else. Thanks to the rollback, some 400,000 tons of methane will leak into the atmosphere over the next decade, according to the EPA. That’s equivalent to burning another billion pounds of coal every year.

The EPA’s move will no doubt energize state-level efforts to limit emissions from oil and gas sites. In Pennsylvania, the country’s No. 2 gas-producing state, one such proposal from the Department of Environmental Protection has already gained vocal support. Regulators there can look to Colorado, which has long had standards surpassing those of the federal government.

On their own, though, states can only do so much. That’s why Senate Democrats have introduced a bill to that would hold energy firms responsible for methane leaks. It has little chance of passing the Republican-led chamber, but the outcome of the November elections might improve its prospects. And if Democrat Joe Biden wins the presidency, he could quickly reverse the EPA’s misguided decision.  

When the EPA administrator made his announcement in a crucial swing state last week — fulsomely praising President Trump and slamming the “Obama-Biden administration” — November’s elections weren’t far from anyone’s mind. This partisan turn was disappointing, yet clarifying. Voters need to ask whether they want a new administration that takes science seriously and sets ambitious goals to cut greenhouse-gas emissions, or a president who offers giveaways to the fossil-fuel industry so irresponsible they make its biggest producers cringe.

Editorials are written by the Bloomberg Opinion editorial board.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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