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Flaring natural gas at a hyrdraulic fracturing site in Texas. Photo: Julie Dermansky/Corbis via Getty Images)

The Trump administration is preparing to take a two-pronged approach to rolling back regulations cutting methane emissions from oil and gas wells, Axios has learned.

Why it matters: Methane is a potent greenhouse gas that’s also the primary component of natural gas. It’s sometimes purposefully or inadvertently leaked in the production and transport of the fuel. The Environmental Protection Agency has been slow in its approach rolling back Obama-era rules addressing methane.

The details: The plans, as articulated by an administration official and corroborated by others tracking the issue closely, signal the EPA is inclined to pursue a more aggressive rollback instead of a replacement approach.

  1. The EPA is planning to soon issue a smaller, more technical rule-making that environmentalists say will weaken the Obama-era rule currently on the books, which affects new oil and gas wells only.
  2. The agency is set to later propose a broader draft rule that includes a range of regulatory options but likely contains a preference for wholly rolling back direct rules on methane and instead relying on a separate air-pollution rule issued in 2012. That rule inadvertently cuts methane emissions as it targets other air pollutants, according to Obama’s EPA at the time.

One level deeper: In addition to those indirect cuts from the 2012 rule, an administration official also said the oil and gas industry has increased its voluntary efforts in this space, indicating a direct regulation may not be necessary.

For the record: An EPA spokesman confirmed the broad parameters of the plan but declined to comment further on the agency's inclination to roll back the direct methane rule entirely. "We will engage in a two-step approach to methane: proposed tech fixes that provide regulatory certainty to covered entities; and a proposed policy package to determine what is the best path towards effectively and efficiently controlling methane," an EPA spokesman said in an email to Axios.

The other side: Environmentalists have two big concerns.

  1. Pointing to new data showing methane emissions are 60% higher than EPA estimates, they argue voluntary efforts are not enough to address the problem.
  2. Big oil and gas companies have invested more in natural gas, which burns 50% less carbon than coal, as a way to help address climate change. A wholesale regulatory rollbacks calls into question whether gas should be considered a cleaner fuel, according to Matt Watson, an associate vice president at the Environmental Defense Fund.
“If they’re going to stand by and let methane rules get wiped from the books, that’s one heck of a risky bet.”
— Watson

The big picture: EPA’s moves in this space reflect a broader push across the administration to move aggressively rolling back, and not replacing, a range of environmental regulations. The EPA is also gearing up to soon propose freezing fuel-efficiency standards and revoking a waiver California has to issue tougher fuel standards. These moves are coming even as many in affected industries would prefer more scaled-back regulations, instead of none at all.

Be smart: These deregulatory moves are still in the drafting stages, and they all involve public-comment periods. Final products may be more moderate than the proposals.

Go deeper

Scoop: Gina Haspel threatened to resign over plan to install Kash Patel as CIA deputy

CIA Director Gina Haspel. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

CIA Director Gina Haspel threatened to resign in early December after President Trump cooked up a hasty plan to install loyalist Kash Patel, a former aide to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), as her deputy, according to three senior administration officials with direct knowledge of the matter.

Why it matters: The revelation stunned national security officials and almost blew up the leadership of the world's most powerful spy agency. Only a series of coincidences — and last minute interventions from Vice President Mike Pence and White House counsel Pat Cipollone — stopped it.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus deaths reach 4,000 per day as hospitals remain in crisis mode — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden says, "We will manage the hell out of" vaccine distribution — Biden taps ex-FDA chief to lead Operation Warp Speed amid rollout of COVID plan — Widow of GOP congressman-elect who died of COVID-19 will run to fill his seat.
  3. Vaccine: Battling Black mistrust of the vaccines"Pharmacy deserts" could become vaccine deserts — Instacart to give $25 to shoppers who get vaccine.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode againFed chair: No interest rate hike coming any time soon —  Inflation rose more than expected in December.
  5. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.

John Weaver, Lincoln Project co-founder, acknowledges “inappropriate” messages

John Weaver aboard John McCain's campaign plane in February 2000. Photo: Robert Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images)

John Weaver, a veteran Republican operative who co-founded the Lincoln Project, declared in a statement to Axios on Friday that he sent “inappropriate,” sexually charged messages to multiple men.

  • “To the men I made uncomfortable through my messages that I viewed as consensual mutual conversations at the time: I am truly sorry. They were inappropriate and it was because of my failings that this discomfort was brought on you,” Weaver said.
  • “The truth is that I'm gay,” he added. “And that I have a wife and two kids who I love. My inability to reconcile those two truths has led to this agonizing place.”