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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

Advocates fret Roe v. Wade's 49th anniversary could be its last

Photo: Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for Women's March Inc

As Saturday marks the 49th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court's landmark decision that legalized abortion access in the U.S., advocates warn the ruling is "more at risk now than ever."

The big picture: The Supreme Court in December heard a challenge to a Mississippi 15-week abortion ban that could throw Roe's survival into question, or at least narrow its scope.

Updated 10 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Omicron dashboard

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

  1. Health: Pfizer and Moderna boosters overwhelmingly prevent Omicron hospitalizations, CDC finds — Omicron pushes COVID deaths toward 2,000 per day — The pandemic-proof health care giant.
  2. Vaccines: The case for Operation Warp Speed 2.0 — Starbucks drops worker vaccine or test requirement after SCOTUS ruling — Kids' COVID vaccination rates are particularly low in rural America.
  3. Politics: Biden concedes U.S. should have done more testing — Arizona says it "will not be intimidated" by Biden on anti-mask school policies — Federal judge blocks Biden's vaccine mandate for federal workers.
  4. World: American Airlines flight to London forced to turn around over mask dispute — WHO: COVID health emergency could end this year — Greece imposes vaccine mandate for people 60 and older — Austria approves COVID vaccine mandate for adults.
  5. Variant tracker

Arizona governor sues Biden administration over COVID funds tied to mandates

A teacher prepares a hallway barrier to help students maintain social distancing at John B. Wright Elementary School in Tucson, Arizona, on Aug. 14, 2020. Photo: Cheney Orr/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey (R) filed a lawsuit Friday against the Biden administration for ordering the state to stop allocating federal COVID relief funds to schools that don't comply with public health recommendations such as masking, the Arizona Republic reports.

Why it matters: The Treasury Department said last week that the state would have to pay back the money if Ducey does not redesignate the $173 million programs to ensure they don't "undermine efforts to stop the spread of COVID-19."