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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.

Go deeper: In aggressive climate plan, Biden’s position on natural gas is fuzzy

Go deeper

Ben Geman, author of Generate
Jan 28, 2021 - Energy & Environment

GM plans to end sales of gasoline powered cars by 2035

GM CEO Mary Barra at the GM Orion Assembly Plant plant for electric and self-driving vehicles in Michigan. Photo: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

General Motors is setting a worldwide target to end sales of gasoline and diesel powered cars, pickups and SUVs by 2035, the automaker said Thursday.

Why it matters: GM's plan marks one of the auto industry's most aggressive steps to transform their portfolio to electric models that currently represent a tiny fraction of overall sales.

United CEO is confident people will feel safe traveling again by 2022

Axios' Joann Muller and United CEO Scott Kirby. Photo: Axios

United Airlines CEO Scott Kirby believes that people will feel safe traveling again by this time next year, depending on the pace of vaccinations and the government's ongoing response to the pandemic, he said at an Axios virtual event.

Why it matters: Misery for global aviation is likely to continue and hold back a broader economic recovery if nothing changes, especially with new restrictions on international border crossings. U.S. airlines carried about 60% fewer passengers in 2020 compared with 2019.

The risks and rewards of charging state-backed hackers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Last week’s stunning indictment of three North Korean hackers laid bare both the advantages and drawbacks of the U.S. government’s evolving strategy of using high-profile prosecutions to publicize hostile nation-state cyber activities.

Why it matters: Criminal charges can help the U.S. establish clear norms in a murky and rapidly changing environment, but they may not deter future bad behavior and could even invite retaliation against U.S. intelligence officials.