Jan 21, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Big business backs key climate change regulations

Illustration of a flower made out of dollar bills growing out of a crack in pavement
Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Two of Washington’s biggest lobbying groups say they support the Biden administration’s plan to regulate methane emissions from oil and gas wells.

Why it matters: The shift, instigated by the Chamber of Commerce and American Petroleum Institute, is one of the most concrete signs of how corporations are beginning to support action on climate change in the face of pressure from investors, politicians and the public.

Catch up quick: The organizations have for years opposed any direct regulation of methane, a greenhouse gas that’s the primary component of natural gas.

  • Methane makes up about 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, but its warming impact on the planet is more potent over a shorter period than carbon dioxide, the most common heat-trapping gas.
  • Methane, an invisible gas, leaks in the production and transportation processes of the fuel.
  • Investors have increasingly called on oil and gas producers to cut methane emissions, and President Biden has vowed to regulate them no matter what the industry thinks.

What they’re saying:

  • “We support the direct regulation of methane for new and existing sources in accordance with the Clean Air Act,” Mike Sommers, API’s president and CEO, told Axios Tuesday.
  • The Chamber of Commerce updated its website Wednesday to say it supports cutting methane emissions, including “by direct regulation under the Clean Air Act.”

But, but, but: The organizations are couching their support around an additional process within the Clean Air Act, America’s bedrock pollution law, that could add many months to writing a regulation. Environmental advocates dispute this position.

How it works: Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president at API, says that to comply with the law, Biden’s Environmental Protection Agency must go through a scientific process confirming that methane from oil and gas wells contributes to endangering the public’s health and welfare.

  • The Obama administration issued a broader scientific finding in 2009 concluding that all greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, did that.
  • Macchiarola says that finding applied to mobile sources, not stationary sources like oil and gas wells, and was in a different part of the law.
  • He says calling for this review isn’t tantamount to a delay and that such a finding is needed to stand up to legal scrutiny.

The other side: Peter Zalzal, an expert at the Environmental Defense Fund, says the EPA already made an additional scientific finding on this matter in 2016 as part of the Obama administration’s early work regulating methane.

  • “There’s broad agreement that methane significantly contributes to harmful climate pollution and EPA has already made this finding in 2016, so let’s get going,” Zalzal said.

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