Nov 11, 2022 - Energy & Environment

White House unveils tougher emissions rules ahead of Biden's COP27 speech

In this illustration, an oil rig hauls an Earth.

Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios

EPA plans to strengthen rules to cut methane emissions from U.S. oil-and-gas wells and infrastructure, a plan President Biden will tout in remarks Friday at the COP27 climate summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Why it matters: Methane is a very powerful planet-warming gas. The White House is seeking to show its acting aggressively on climate change at the summit aimed at strengthening efforts worldwide.

Zoom in: Today's plan to better identify and fix leaks expands a 2021 proposal in a bunch of ways, per EPA, including...

  • Creating a "super-emitter response program" that requires the industry to take fast action when major releases are identified by regulators or third parties.
  • That's important because multiple studies (like this one) show a relatively small number of sites have an outsized impact.
  • Elsewhere, per EPA, it would ensure "all" well sites are routinely monitored for leaks. "Small wells currently are subject to an initial inspection but are rarely checked again for leaks," AP notes.
  • It also sets a "zero-emissions standard" for pneumatic pumps, and creates requirements for "dry seal compressors" that are currently unregulated, EPA said.

The big picture: EPA estimates that the overall plan would cut emissions from covered sources by 87% from 2005 levels by 2030.

"We’re listening to public feedback and strengthening our proposed oil and gas industry standards, which will enable innovative new technology to flourish while protecting people and the planet," EPA administrator Michael Regan said in a statement.

Catch up fast: The updated EPA proposal is among a wider set of domestic and global efforts to curb methane.

  • The new climate law imposes fees on oil-and-gas industry emissions.
  • Last year the U.S. and EU launched Global Methane Pledge, which now counts over 130 countries in a non-binding commitment to cut their emissions by 30% by 2030.

What's next: The methane proposal is among several new or recent initiatives Biden is expected to discuss when he addresses the summit, the White House said.

  • One is a new proposal to better leverage the federal government's purchasing power to spur stronger private-sector efforts.
  • The proposal, which the Washington Post first reported, would "require major suppliers to set Paris Agreement-aligned emissions reduction goals," a White House summary states.
  • The federal government is a huge customer, spending $630 billion on goods and services last year, per the White House.

Threat level: The conference and White House efforts come amid fresh evidence that global efforts to curb carbon emissions are badly out of step with steep cuts envisioned under the Paris agreement goals.

The Global Carbon Project, a respected research consortium, today reported that global carbon emissions from fossil fuels are rising by an estimated 1% this year.

"Many countries, cities, companies, and individuals have made pledges to reduce emissions, and it is a stark reminder that despite all this rhetoric, global fossil CO2 emissions are more than 5% higher than in 2015, the year of the Paris Agreement," said Glen Peters of Norway's CICERO Center for International Climate Research, which is part of the group.

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